Monday, November 17, 2008

Cambodia's poor quality rice

The Phnom Penh Post on Friday reported on how the poor quality of Cambodian rice was hurting exports.

"Chan Tong Yves, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said poor rice cultivation techniques, rural poverty and outdated post-harvest technology makes Cambodian rice poor in quality compared with other nations.

"Foreign markets depend on phytosanitary (SPS) certification to prove that export products are free of disease or harmful chemicals. We have not been able to control SPS quality to conform to international standards," he said."

I have always thought Cambodian rice could not compare with Thai rice that we used to eat in Singapore. I was amazed when a Singaporean woman who had lived in Cambodia for a few years insisted on buying Cambodian rice to bring home.

The problem I have had with Cambodian rice, even the expensive variety, is that it becomes stodge when you cook it. It's starchy; not light and fluffy.

My mother told me there is difference in "Old Rice" and "New Rice". I have no idea what she means and I've also forgotten which one I was to look out for. But me, the "Google Queen", found this report by experts from the Department of Grain Science and Technology, Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, India.

"Rice from freshly harvested paddy cooks rather pasty, loses more solids in excess cooking water and swells less, as compared to aged/old rice. Steaming (or curing) process for fresh paddy was developed to hasten aging process. Old rice is normally priced 25-30% higher than the new or steamed rice. Accidental or intentional mixing of new rice with old rice affects cooking quality. Hence, a series of tests were developed that could easily differentiate the extent of their admixture for quality control purposes."

The scientists went on to describe the rice tests, which they are "useful for quality control in trading rice."

Back to Cambodia. "Our rice quality is based on two classifications: simple rice and polished rice," Mao Thora, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, told the Phnom Penh Post, before adding that simple rice was suitable for export to Africa. (Only Senegal so far has agreed to buy rice from Cambodia).

Polished rice is rice with husks completely removed and I guess simple rice, the one suitable for Africans, is rice with some of the husk removed.

I am no rice expert, but I wonder if rice is treated the same way as fruit in this country. I mentioned in another post how fruit is eaten before it has a chance to ripen because I believe it is a hangover habit from the war, where you'd eat anything you can get your hands on, and if you wait for fruit to ripen, you'd never see it again.

Perhaps Khmers are still so hungry, or have a hangover habit, that they don't wait for the rice to age, leaving us with only New Rice, not Old Rice?

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