Ultra RiceĀ® is a manufactured rice supplement that is becoming popular in the field of food aid, and may soon be used in disaster relief efforts. It is essentially rice flour with added nutrients that has been molded into grains that are indistinguishable from whole rice. It is intended to be mixed into bags of raw rice, which are sold and used as you would unfortified rice.

Ultra Rice was invented in 1985 by the father-and-son inventing team of Duffy Cox and James Cox while working at Bon Dente International. Despite interest in the product by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Cox's were unable to find a commercial producer for the product, and eventually donated the patent to PATH, an NGO working to improve global health. PATH, with the help of a $6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been successful in starting local production plants in many parts of the world, and have been able to get government contracts to supply Ultra Rice for school lunches in India and Brazil.

Originally Ultra Rice was designed as a delivery system for vitamin A; vitamin A deficiency is estimated to compromise the immune system of approximately 40% of children under the age of five years in the developing world, and causes about one million deaths a year. It is a major cause of blindness in children and also causes sickness, poor lactation, and death in pregnant and nursing mothers. Unfortunately, vitamin A has a short shelf-life and breaks down easily in heat and humidity; Ultra Rice is designed to protect the vitamin A, and has a shelf-life of about 6 months. PATH has expanded the recipe to include other nutrients, most commonly iron, folic acid, and zinc, which are often deficient in young children, pregnant women, and lactating mothers.

The rice is made in much the same way as is pasta (and is usually produced by local pasta manufacturers), but using rice flour with added vitamins and minerals. It can be mixed with regular rice at a ratio of 1 to 100, and is intended to be indistinguishable from the natural rice in taste, smell, and texture. Local manufacturing plants adjust the appearance (long grain vs. short grain, etc.) and the added nutrients in order to meet local needs and expectations.

The use of Ultra Rice is still somewhat limited, but PATH is working to get it included in food aid through US Government and the United Nations World Food Programme, and is looking at more ways to provide it commercially in areas of need. It is currently manufactured locally in Brazil, Colombia, India, and the Dominican Republic, and will shortly be introduced in Nicaragua.

Further reading:
PATH.org: Ultra Rice
Xconomy: Ultra Rice

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