The grains look like tiny bits of sunshine, sparkling in the clear wrapper that encloses them. The label says it’s RiCo Corn Rice; on one side an ear of corn is shown yielding its golden kernels, while below it, grains of what look like yellow rice shimmer in a white bowl. Is this rice or corn or what?
Turns out it’s both. It’s corn pretending to be rice and tasting a bit of both.
I’ve been curious about this product for quite some time now. Every time I’d see it in the supermarket, I’d wonder if this could really be what it says it is: made with 100-percent Philippine corn, fortified with B vitamins, calcium and iron, with a low glycemic index and naturally rich in beta carotene, lutein and fiber.
Enlightenment about this mysterious product that seemed to appear in the market out of nowhere came yesterday, with its formal launching at Chef Jessie in Rockwell Club. Jebe Gayanelo, president of Philippine Leading Infinite Logistics Inc., explained the philosophy and circumstances that led to its creation.
The company, he said, manufactures animal feeds that comply with international standards, which means they contain no antibiotics, and zero level of aflatoxins.
“The biggest portion of animal feed is corn,” he said. “One of our advocacies is to help farmers raise corn and other crops in the rural areas.”
Another advocacy is helping growers of hogs, poultry and fish have access to feeds that are free from antibiotics and from aflatoxin, which comes from molds that grow in products like corn (and peanuts).
The company also has piggeries where it raises hogs used to make La Filipina products such as corned pork and luncheon meat. Naturally these hogs are given only the antibiotic-free and aflatoxin-free feeds that the company itself manufactures.
With the country’s current shortage of locally grown rice, company executives thought of producing corn that could be used as a substitute for rice. It wouldn’t be that big a leap for them, after all, since they’re already processing corn grown by local farmers into high-quality feeds.
“We have a machine that sorts corn kernels and rejects those that are infected,” said Gayanelo. Moreover, with the country’s self-sufficiency in corn, sourcing the main ingredient is not a problem.
“However, many of our countrymen are not familiar with corn (as a staple),” said Gayanelo. “Mostly they just eat it as sweet corn on the cob.”
It’s different in some areas of Cebu and Mindanao where people sometimes eat bigas na mais. In fact it’s said that boxing champ Manny Pacquiao himself grew up eating bigas na mais.
To make corn more acceptable as a rice substitute, the company thought of transforming corn kernels into grains that look like rice. For this it invested in expensive equipment that would dry, polish and shape the corn kernels.
As a substitute for rice, corn rice has its advantages. Luningning Caravana, a registered nutritionist and dietician, says RiCo corn rice is low in glycemic index, which makes for a slower absorption of glucose, thus making it ideal for diabetics.
It’s also rich in dietary fiber, which helps regulate blood cholesterol level and maintain a healthy digestive system. Because of its high-density nutrients, it quickly fills the stomach. Complex carbohydrates, iron, vitamins A and B and calcium further add to its rich nutritional contents. And yes, as the packaging says, it also contains beta carotene and lutein, which is important for good eyesight.
Moreover, it tastes just like rice, but with a hint of corn, said brand manager Kare Cristobal.
With such virtuous qualities, is there a catch somewhere? Maybe it’s difficult to cook?
Not really, said chef Joey de la Cruz. Cooking corn rice is as simple as BPS. Boil the water, pour in the grains, then simmer for around 10 to 15 minutes.
Chef Jessie Sincioco herself has cooked with corn rice, and if her menu during the launch was any indication, this product has versatility added to its virtues.
For starters she served mesclun greens with raspberry vinaigrette, accented by prawns coated in crunchy corn rice. The hearty soup of minestrone had corn rice along with the vegetables, while the main courses of pan-fried cod fish fillet in Pommery mustard sauce and grilled chicken breast in creamy pepper sauce were served with RiCo pilaf.
Dessert was a “wow!” moment, with a silky roll of butter cream encased in crunchy finely grated corn rice.
So what’s not to like about RiCo? Maybe the price. At P60 per kilo, it’s a bit expensive. However, considering that the cheapest rice is now around P48 per kilo and red rice or brown rice (which may have the equivalent amount of fiber) can cost as much as P110 per kilo, RiCo can seem like a bargain.
Moreover, said Gayanelo, since it’s made of 100-percent Philippine-grown corn, this innovative product provides increased livelihood for Filipino farmers and helps develop the country’s natural resources.
Enough said. If RiCo were a person, it would be the person you love to hate: bright, beautiful, talented, plus kind and gracious, too. But it’s a food product that seems to bear so many advantages and benefits. Perhaps the only thing that would be jealous of it would be… rice?
I tried cooking RiCo corn rice in my kitchen and what can I say? It was easy to cook, it did taste like rice with a subtle hint of corn in the finish, perhaps reminiscent of nachos or corn tortillas.
And, yes, it was versatile. I made tuyo fried corn rice with it and not only did it blend well with the other ingredients, its lively color also made the dish look so appetizing.
Here are the recipes. Move over, rice. As much as we love you, you’re about to have some serious competition.
RiCo corn rice is available in major supermarkets. Visit www.yummyhealthy.ph, www.facebook.com/yummyhealthylife.
Basic Corn Rice
1 ½ c water
1 c RiCo corn rice
Pour water into a rice cooker. Turn on the rice cooker and bring water to a boil. Add the RiCo corn rice, distributing the grains evenly. Let cook until the water has been completely absorbed and the rice cooker automatically turns to “warm” or “off.”
Let rest for a few minutes then transfer to a serving bowl and fluff the corn rice with a serving fork. Makes a little over 2 cups corn rice. Serve with desired dishes as you would rice.
Fried Corn Rice with Tuyo
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced diagonally
5-6 pc bottled tuyo, drained and sliced into bite-size pieces
2 c cooked corn rice
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ c wansuy leaves (optional)
Heat cooking oil in a large wok or frying pan. Add the onions and sauté over low heat for one to 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes and continue sautéing until the garlic is fragrant and tomatoes are softened, around 2 minutes.
Add the tuyo and stir-fry for a further one to 2 minutes. Pour in the cooked corn rice and season with salt and pepper. Toss gently with the other ingredients. Add the wansuy leaves. Transfer to a serving platter and serve immediately. Makes 2 to 3 servings.
For more tips, recipes and stories, visit the author’s blog www.normachikiamco.com and Facebook fan page www.facebook.com/normachikiamco; follow @NormaChikiamco on Twitter.
After opening the package, store the corn rice in an airtight container.
Do not wash the grains as these are already clean. Washing the grains may remove some of the iron and vitamins.
For the fried rice, you may add more tuyo if desired.