Which is a better life—a short but full life or a long but dull one? People often fall into a dilemma when asked to decide among the two. Yet, technology has now made such anxiety useless. Just by consuming a spoonful of functional rice, one could possibly enjoy a long and fruitful life. In this way, rice, which is the staple food of Koreans, no longer seems to be a mere food for filling one’s stomach.
Rice itself is functional and is rich in carbohydrates providing energy. The protein develops muscles, and manganese boosts the immune system. Rice is also full of nutrients beneficial to health. In this sense, the new “functional” rice can simply be defined as conventional rice that includes additional health benefits beyond basic nutrition. What is more surprising, though, is that these supplementary benefits may even reduce diseases and promote good health.
Functions of Functional Rice
Functional rice is good news for all generations, including seniors. Keun-Nun, which is in the germinated brown rice group, is known to prevent adult diseases. In particular, its embryo bud, which is three times larger than plain rice, is fully nine times richer in gamma-Amino butyric acid (GABA) than normal ones. GABA is strong in its anti-obesity properties as well as its effect in lowering blood pressure. It also stimulates brain activity, such as memory and concentration, which is why this rice type is receiving attention as a possible preventer of dementia.
According to the Rural Development Administration (RDA), 60 varieties of functional rice have been invented and most are already purchasable. For instance, Hayami and Young-An rice are rich in amino acids, which play a key role in childrens growth. In particular, their lysine, which is a type of amino acid, promotes digestion. Apart from these, there are dozens of other functional rices that are satisfying people’s tastes. From those effective in preventing aging to others that can even reduce cholesterol, the remarkable growth of rice is indeed striking.
Overcoming the Years of Poor Harvest
Nevertheless, not many are aware of this innovative product. “Functional rice sales are only a minimal proportion of the whole rice market,” confessed Professor Lee Sung Joon (Food Science). “Yet, with accumulation of scientific research and appropriate promotion and commercialization, it will undoubtedly appeal to customers.” In this sense, prospects are positive.
Even though the price of functional rice in Korea is double the normal, its cultivation areas have leaped threefold during the last five years. Because of falling demand for rice, it seems that functional rice has played a key role in stabilizing the domestic rice market. This success does not tell about the agony and exertion of domestic farmers.
The government has recently announced new tariffs on imported rice. Although the tariffs do not up the cost of imported rice significantly, what stifles the Korean farmers market is the flood of non-Korean rice. Not only does this threaten Korean rice farmers sovereignty in domestic agriculture, but also intimidates Korea’s stance in future rice-related international negotiations. “In this sense, functional rice is a high value product that will contribute to farm household income and national stability,” said Professor Lee.
However, developing a new species of rice is not an easy undertaking. Surprisingly, it takes as long as 15 years or more to accomplish this task—seven to 12 years in the actual research and development, and an additional four to seven years in applying for a patent and expanding the production to farms. Fortunately though, RDA’s firm goals are to investigate the viability ten additional varieties by the year 2017.
Welcoming a Good Harvest
The spread of the well-being culture has alienated carbohydrate intake, which contributes to the fall in overall rice consumption. This is, of course, the prejudice that functional rice must overcome. “Rice reinforced with fiber, colored rice containing functional pigments, and a species with high GABA are expected to be produced in the coming years,” claimed Professor Lee, fascinated with the limitless potential of rice.
Technology is also expected to blur the borders between food and medicine, as the RDA asserts that functional rice with multi-functions will someday substitute pharmaceutical drugs. Yet, Professor Lee still insists there are former steps to take before this becomes a reality. Not only should the government invest more on research and development of overall functional foods, but companies of the agricultural, food processing, distribution industry, food service, and pharmaceutical sectors are required to cooperate for sustained growth.
Ancestors used to say that, “eating right will keep one healthy.” This is perhaps one of the unchanging truths beyond space and time. Yet, what has changed is that functional rice is now making this easier to achieve. Thanks to technology, human life is becoming healthier and more affluent than ever. Staying in step with progress equates to Korea University students looking forward to have functional rice on their plates at home, restaurants, and on campus.