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Rice Offers a Healthier Way to "Batter Up"

By Erin Peabody
May 26, 2004

Fillets of fish and chicken, whole mushrooms and onions--all seem more savory after being dipped in a seasoned flour mixture and then fried to a golden brown. However, many consumers can only dream of enjoying such fried foods, because these treats contain high levels of fat and may pose other health risks. But this could soon change, as scientists with the Agricultural Research Service have found a healthier batter to coat these favorite foods.

ARS chemist Fred F. Shih and colleagues examined a variety of batters--made with long-grain rice, waxy rice, wheat or corn--to see which flour type would take up the least amount of oil. Their findings? Batters made with long-grain rice flour and small amounts of other specially modified rice ingredients absorbed about 55 percent less oil than the traditional wheat batter. Rice flour has unique properties that resist oil absorption.

The researchers, located in the Food Processing and Sensory Quality Research Unit of the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La., were also interested in how much acrylamide the batters produced during frying. A chemical found in many cooked foods, acrylamide forms in the presence of high temperatures and specific interactions between protein components and carbohydrates.

While there are no guidelines yet on safe levels of acrylamide in foods, excessive levels of the chemical may be a cause of concern, according to Shih.

Shih found that the batter formulated with long-grain rice flour and other modified rice ingredients again rated best, containing 60 percent less acrylamide than the wheat-based one. But acrylamide levels for all the researched batters were still relatively low when compared to levels in other fried foods, like potato chips.

In addition to being low in acrylamide and oil uptake, the new 100-percent rice batter is also gluten-free.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.