More value for the Australian rice industry

In collaboration with SunRice, one of the largest rice companies in the world, UNSW School of Chemical Engineering researchers have discovered that rice bran protein contains peptides that exhibit significant antioxidant, antidiabetic and antihypertensive effects. Although more research is needed, this discovery has the potential to add significant value to the Australian rice industry.Associate Professor Jian Zhao

The Australian rice industry faces a number of challenges including rising production costs, fluctuating water availability, climate change and competition from low-cost production countries. There is a growing recognition that to remain internationally competitive and be able to provide a reasonable return to rice farmers, the industry needs to innovate.

According to Associate Professor Jian Zhao, expert in food science and technology from UNSW School of Chemical Engineering, value-adding should be given top priority as it increases the value of the crop without requiring additional farmland, water and other agricultural resources. But where does he anticipate getting this added-value from?

“Rice bran makes up approximately 10-12% of the rice grain and the Australian rice industry generates around 100,000 tonnes of it per year. Most of this bran is used as stockfeed, which provides a low return to companies like SunRice. Now, we know that rice bran comprises 12–16% protein which we hypothesised could be transformed into health-benefitting properties with antioxidant, antidiabetic, blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering and anticancer effects,” explains Zhao.

The benefit of a collaboration like this, between researchers and commercial businesses within the food industry, is the development of innovative and cost-effective solutions that will deliver significant nutritional benefit

Michael Beer Program Manager Research and Innovation, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC)

“The idea is based on research on dairy, legume and other cereal proteins which shows that controlled hydrolysis can produce certain health-benefitting hydrolysates which are increasingly used in products for preventing a number of chronic diseases prevalent in modern society.”

Globally, the functional food and nutraceutical market is estimated to be worth $168 billion and is projected to grow to $305 billion by the year 2020. Zhao believes that the unique composition of rice bran protein, coupled with its low allergenicity, compared with many other cereal and legume proteins, represents a unique opportunity for the rice industry.

Against this backdrop, Zhao and his collaborators at SunRice applied for, and received, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) funding for their project. “In 2016, we finished the “blue sky” research phase and the results are very positive,” says Zhao. “Laboratory tests showed that rice bran proteins possess significant antioxidant activities and have the capacity to block physiologically important enzymes, which could be used to treat conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

The findings of the research have several important implications. For the rice industry, they imply a significant opportunity to develop rice bran-based functional food and nutraceutical products. For the general public, the findings could help improve their knowledge on the health benefits of rice. For the scientific community, this project points to several major directions for further research, and for policy makers, these results demonstrate a strong case to allocate further funding opportunities so researchers can continue to investigate this opportunity.

Zhao believes that although it will depend on significant investment, future commercialisation prospects are very good and he is in the process of applying for more funding from RIRDC, with SunRice, to continue to investigate rice bran. “In this next phase we’re interested in extracting the fibre from rice bran, which we think has many potential applications and various health properties,” continues Zhao.

"Zhao’s team presented an innovative and commercially-relevant research proposal that offered alternative and creative uses for value-added products from rice bran, a major by-product of the Australian industry. The benefit of a collaboration like this, between researchers and commercial businesses within the food industry, is the development of innovative and cost-effective solutions that will deliver significant nutritional benefit. As a result of this research, RIRDC was able to better define the scope of the proposed work and validate the potential outcomes through collaborative discussions with Sunrice."

Program Manager Research and Innovation, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation

 

Partnership in Summary

Partner: SunRice

Type of partnership: Ongoing since 2000

Funding: For this specific project: $64,000 over three years from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. Previous funding sources have included ARC Linkage funding and contract research.

Purpose:  Transforming a low-valued by-product of rice milling into a potentially high-valued ingredient for health products and helping the Australian rice industry have a better return to farmers.

Outcomes:  Laboratory tests have shown that rice bran proteins possess significant antioxidant activities and have the capacity to block physiologically important enzymes which could be used to treat conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

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