How to sift real rice from the fake

Reader Boey San Fei wrote in to ask about basmati rice: "If we suspect the rice that we have bought is fake, where do we send it for verification?" Food reporter Kenneth Goh finds out.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) is the authority in Singapore which conducts food-safety checks. If you suspect the rice is fake - that is, synthetic rice, as purportedly has been found in countries like China and Vietnam - then the AVA is the organisation to approach to verify that the rice is indeed real.

An AVA spokesman said: "As part of AVA's routine surveillance programme, imported rice is regularly inspected and sampled to ensure compliance with our food-safety standards and requirements. Our sampling tests include authenticity, and testing for mycotoxins, pesticide residues and heavy metals."

Despite social media rumours, the AVA said it has not detected fake rice in Singapore.

Typical features of real rice are that uncooked and unbroken rice grains are usually irregularly shaped and have an embryo (which is also known as germ), and they can be easily crushed into powder. When soaked, the rice grains should expand and soften, and have a sticky texture when cooked.

When it comes to verifying the variety and origin of rice, there is no official body in Singapore that oversees this. Authenticating the variety and origin of rice has long been a contentious issue.

Basmati rice is a long-grain rice that is typically grown in India and Pakistan. The slender grain is prized for its nutty flavour and distinctive aroma.

India is the world's largest producer and exporter of basmati rice.

According to a report by The Hindu newspaper, Indian basmati rice grown in some states is set to be recognised with a geographical indication (GI) status, which is issued for agricultural, natural or manufactured products that have a quality and reputation unique to their geographical origins.

A GI status would prevent other countries from staking a claim to label or patent their rice as basmati.

For Thai Hom Mali rice, which is more commonly referred to as Thai fragrant or jasmine rice here, the Thai government issues the Thai Hom Mali Rice mark of certification that guarantees rice quality.

Then there is the issue of counterfeit rice. Last week, Singapore Customs seized more than 5,000 bags of rice, weighing about 129,000kg, from a shipment imported from India. The bags of rice are suspected to be counterfeit goods infringing a Singapore-registered trademark.

A Singapore Customs spokesman said: "The case is pending civil proceedings between the trademark proprietor and the importer of the goods."


This article was first published on Dec 03, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

10 fake foods you didn't know you were eating

  • In 2013, an episode on This American Life explored the rumour that pig rectums were being passed off as squids.
  • None of the radio show's producers could tell the difference between the two after they were breaded and fried.
  • The California roll you get at the average sushi joint contains avocado, cucumber, sesame, and crab... sticks, which actually have no traces of the crustaceans.
  • The imitation meat is made using whitefish, egg whites, wheat starch, and hydrolysed soy protein.
  • With the real deal costing around US$75 (S$100) per pound, it's not hard to figure out why Japanese restaurants choose to pass off a mixture of horseradish, mustard, and green dye as wasabi.
  • Here's how to tell you've been eating horseradish all this while: wasabi is hot but doesn't have a burning aftertaste that lingers.
  • The truffle oil in your truffle fries is most likely made with the chemical 2,4-dithiapentane, a lab-synthesised replication of one of the hundreds of compounds that give real truffles their exquisite aroma.
  • "Or, if they really take you for a fool, olive tapenade will do the trick," First We Feast said.
  • Real maple syrup is made almost entirely from the sap of a maple tree. It is harvested seasonally and follows a strict colour-based grading scale.
  • Its substitutes such as "maple-flavoured syrups" and "pancake syrups" don't contain anything close to maple. They're usually made using high fructose corn syrup, cellulose gum, and artificial flavours, among other ingredients.
  • A study by an ocean preservation organisation in 2013 found that the controversial fish escolar was being passed off as white tuna 84 per cent of the time.
  • White tuna is supposed to have a light colour and mild-flavoured flesh.
  • The whipped cream on your cake is most likely neither whipped nor cream.
  • Rather, the fluffy white product is made using hydrogenated vegetable oil, corn syrup, xanthan and guar gums, and artificial flavours.
  • How do you make fake blueberries?
  • By using dextrose, palm kernel oil, flour, citric acid, cellulose gum, maltodextrin, and artificial flavours and colours - blue and red (which gives you purple).
  • The buttery topping on your popcorn is made using hydrogenated soybean and coconut oils, blended with diacetyl and beta carotene for flavour and colour.

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES