Public Interest: Know the quality of your basmati rice before picking it

There are hundreds of varieties of rice grown and eaten throughout the world. Basmati rice is a special variety which is grown in specific areas of West Punjab (now Pakistan) and some parts of India. Basmati rice is known for its long grains and aroma. There are Agmark standards for basmati rice . With effect from February 5, 2016, basmati rice is a registered GI (geographical indication) product. Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), as registered proprietor of the GI, is responsible for putting in place a system for administration of GI and authentication of the product. Such rice has standards which can be tested in a lab. These quality standards include minimum precooking and post-cooking grain length, share of broken and fragmented grains, damaged/discoloured grains, etc. In an inferior product, there may be red-striped grains, green grains, chalky grains and so on. The price of basmati rice of 12 brands covered in the lab tests conducted by Consumer Voice varied from Rs 95 to Rs 190 per kg. Suppliers mix inferior quality rice priced between Rs 40 and Rs 50 per kg with genuine basmati rice to increase their profit as consumers rarely can make out the difference. These differences, however, showed up in the lab tests of these 12 brands.

NABL accredited lab for comparative tests

Tests were conducted at an NABL-accredited laboratory and as per requirements specified in Agmark rules (cereals grading & marking rules) and FSS regulations for rice. Note that Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has no specific standard for basmati rice. Agmark has standards for Dehradun and Saharanpur-grown basmati rice as well as export quality basmati rice. In the absence of specific standards for domestic trade of basmati rice, we have taken Agmark standards for export quality as reference standard for evaluation. Here it must be mentioned that none of the tested brands bears Agmark grading.

12 brands of rice DNA tested

Consumer Voice tested 12 leading brands of basmati rice on the above-mentioned parameters as well as other key quality determinants. A crucial aspect of the test was DNA analysis of the samples to detect adulteration with non-basmati rice. Other key parameters included grain length/ breadth ratio, average precooked grain length and elongation ratio.  Samples were also checked for presence of broken or fragmented grains, damaged/discoloured grains, chalky grains, green grains, other grains, moisture, uric acid, aflatoxins and foreign matter (such as dust and stones). A major health-related parameter was presence of heavy metals (lead and arsenic) as well as pesticide residues.

Quality score of each brand based on lab tests

The highest overall test scores went for Golden Harvest and Lal Qila (92/100 each).  It was followed by Patanjali (89/100), Tilda (88/100) and Asbah and India Gate ( 87/100 each). The lowest rankings were for Fortune (62/100) and Kohinoor (63/100). Rest of the brands were rated in between: Daawat (84/100), Organic Tattva (82/100), Aeroplane (81/100) and Heritage (76/100).

While Golden Harvest (Rs 130/kg) and Lal Qilla (Rs 150/kg) were adjudged as top quality, Patanjali was adjudged as best value for money being pieced at Rs 125 per kg.

DNA Tests

DNA testing is mainly used to determine if parent is biologically related to the child. Similarly DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) test was conducted to determine purity of basmati rice. The test can detect adulteration of non-basmati rice. Presence of inferior varieties of rice is considered as adulteration. The admixture of common rice in basmati rice should not exceed limits prescribed in Agmark. This criteria had a weightage of 25/100 in Consumer Voice ranking.  Only Golden Harvest and Lal Qilla scored full marks (25/25) as pure basmati as they had no trace of any other variety. All other brands were contaminated with a share of non basmati rice varying from a low of 2.8 per cent (Patanjali ) to a high of 36.6 per cent (Kohinoor).

Physiochemical , sensory and safety tests conducted

Sixteen different tests were conducted to measure different physiochemical characteristics including  quality of grains, energy and nutrition content, uric acid and aflatoxins among others. Safety tests included test for lead and arsenic as well as 37 pesticides. All the brands were within safe limits. ‘Organic Tattva’ contained pretilachlor pesticide which demolished its claim of being organic.

Sensory tests were conducted by an expert panel. Rice was boiled and experts assigned scores out of 12 based on fragrance/ aroma, appearance, size of kernel, colour, texture and taste. Tilda got highest score of 10.49/12 while Heritage got the lowest of 7.8/12. Brands were also scored for packing, marking and net weight.

Consumer Voice does comparative tests based on ISO Guide 46 and Guideline of Consumer International.  Samples for the test are bought from retail shops. Manufacturers are informed of test criteria prior to tests and once the test results are out, they are given an opportunity to object to the test results. The results are published only after giving due consideration to the objections of manufacturers.  Over last three decades, Consumer Voice has tested over 250 categories of products that include consumer durables, electrical products, cosmetics , food and a variety of consumer household products. These tests are conducted following the guidelines of the Sathi Nair Committee approved by the Union Goverment. Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs has been supporting these tests with grants from the Consumer Welfare Fund (CWF) .

(The writer is managing editor of Consumer Voice and former dean and head of commerce, Delhi School of Economic)