Food additives are supposed to be added as a technical necessity and they are not intended to boost the profitability of the processor or masking the inherently lower quality of a product. The recent controversy in China regarding the practice in that country of using additives to natural rice will help to focus on the need for a re-look at thousands of food additives which have become common place as far as the food industry is concerned. Interestingly the food safety authorities are taking the stand that these additives are safe without deeply examining the technical need for use of additives in rice which has never been heard of before.
The three additives that are used in China to coat rice include Sodium Diacetate, Chitosan and starch phosphates. These are supposed to protect the rice from pests and insects which can destroy the grains when infested. Sodium Diacetate, a mixture of Sodium acetate and acetic acid is permitted in many processed food products for controlling the acidity and enhance flavor. But Chitosan, a polyglucosamine product derived from the industrial waste from processing of Crustaceans like Shrimp has many functional properties though in rice they are reported to be used as a protectant. Its value as a biopesticide in agriculture and horticulture is well known and generally seeds are treated with Chitosan to improve the germination efficiency. Starch Phosphate, a gummy material is a thickener and probably it functions by masking the natural aroma of rice and deceive the damage causing vectors. Being resistant to heat and acids, Starch Phosphates might be protecting the rice becoming mushy during cooking. Researchers have used carbohydrate polymers like Carboxy Methyl Cellulose as a carrier for coating rice with nutrients and such coated rice resist leaching of nutrients during cooking with excess water and draining. However it is inconceivable that a consumer can knowingly accept a rice with such additives incorporated which will definitely tell on the organoleptic quality of the cooked rice, especially in a country like India.
According to the global standards for using additives, it can be used only when such practice is technically indispensable. If rice is rot-resistant to pests without additives, where is the need for adding it? Many experts familiar with rice industry frown upon using any additive in natural rice and there are no reports elsewhere in the world about such practices. It is generally recognized that protecting rice from pests can be achieved several ways and technologies available include chemical fumigation, nitrogen packing and vacuum packing. They are easy, safe and inexpensive for retaining the freshness of rice. There are also natural protectants like Neem which are used widely in rural areas where excess grains are preserved for future use. .
It is understandable for makers of rice based products like noodles to use additives so that the product retains its cooking quality better. However a natural rice grain does not need any additives to maintain its typical characteristics. Besides there are hundreds of varieties of rice with different quality characteristics and if the industry is allowed to use additives, there can be tendency to process inferior quality rice for positioning as premium quality product to deceive the consumer. Imagine some unscrupulous processors using additives like Chitosan or Starch Phosphate for carrying flavors resembling that of Basmati rice using low priced varieties and palming it of as a genuine product! With controversies raging amongst experts and policy makers regarding the safety of hundreds of chemical additives already permitted, world can do without another one by allowing additives to natural rice!.