Brown rice in India?

Ever since hippies in the West discovered brown rice, those of us (speaking for myself at least) who remember books such as Diet for a Small Planet and Victory through Vegetables, have welcomed brown rice to our table.

For me, at least some of the time, a steaming bowl of white basmati or jasmine rice is still more enticing to me than its chewy brown counterpart. I think this is a personal failing rather than something to do with brown rice.

brown rice
Brown rice. Flickr/miscdebris

How interesting, then, to stumble on an article published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association describing perceptions in South India about brown rice. It is written by S. Kumar, a social scientist and R. Mohanraj, a psychologist, both living in Chennai, India, and several other colleagues in India and at Harvard University in the United States.

The study is based on qualitative research — focus group interviews with 65 South Indian adults. The sample included men and women, people who were and were not overweight, and people who did and did not live in a slum situation in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The focus groups were homogeneous by gender.

Findings: overall, participants favor eating rice and rice-based foods. So far so good, but what about color preferences? In general, rice that is not white or long-grained is considered to be inferior.

Knowledge of brown rice and its nutritive properties was limited, though some people were aware of the health benefits of brown rice. The interviews suggest that old people with health problems might be more likely to accept brown rice than healthy, young people. So…it’s sort of medicinal and taste/quality are less important in that case.

Participants did have suggestions for promoting brown rice. They include: having the government and health officials endorse it and educate people about its benefits, advertize recipes with brown rice as an ingredient, have celebrity film actors endorse it, and give out free samples.

Notably, across “non-slum and slum groups,” women were more open to trying brown rice than men. But even the most open-minded women suggested that it would be a slow process to make brown rice an accepted part of the everyday diet.

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