The recent happenings in India of rice being adulterated with plastic rice or biryani being made with plastic rice in Hyderabad caused a lot of panics. Rumors began making the rounds on the social media where videos began showing how plastic rice was being made in machines with plastic waste. Panic set in as consumers thought that rice was being made from polyethylene material which is a health hazard and cannot really be digested.
The term ‘plastic rice’ originated in China when the famous Wuchang rice scandal took place. Wuchang rice is China’s premium rice and is exported to various countries as it has a very good flavor. However, in 2010 Chinese rice manufacturers added flavoring to ordinary rice and passed it off as Wuchang rice and this rice began to be called ‘plastic rice.’ Sometime later the term ‘plastic rice’ popped up again and this time in Korea where distributors were selling fake rice made from a mixture of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and plastic. In 2016 there was news that the Nigerian Authorities have seized around 2.5 tons of plastic rice. This plastic rice was allegedly made from sweet potatoes and synthetic resin which was molded into the shape of real rice. However, according to Wikipedia the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health quashed the rumors and stated that there was no evidence that plastic rice was circulating in the country.
However, rice which is artificially made from corn maize and potato starch are also called plastic rice as it is artificially shaped and does not grow like normal rice. Artificial rice or synthetic rice it seems is also made with waste and expired grains of rice in which nutrients are added to pass it off as good rice. Various state government departments got several samples of rice tested. Hindustan Times report stated that the Delhi government’s food safety department collected at least 27 random samples which were a mix of raw samples as well as cooked samples from various hotels and restaurants and none proved to be plastic rice. Business line reported that the Secretary, Federation of Tamil Nadu Rice Mill Owners and Paddy-rice Dealers Associations, said plastic rice by nature cannot be cooked as it melts when temperature increases so no rice can be made from this kind of plastic material. Besides other tests, the state department of Andhra also conducted chemical tests on the rice that was collected. They took small amounts of rice grains and poured 20ml of Methylene blue in it. After washing it with Hydrochloric acid 20ml of Methylene yellow was poured in and the color of the rice changed to greenish. If it was not normal rice, the color of the rice grains would have remained white.
According to Snopes, which is a website that investigates urban legends, the rumors of plastic rice are just hoaxes spread by people who wish to support locally grown rice rather than import of rice from other countries. Moreover, plastic rice can easily be detected when cooking as it cannot withstand the heat. Also, it is probably more expensive to manufacture plastic rice than producing the real rice. The possibility of plastic rice in India is somewhat unbelievable as India produces enough rice and there is no shortage of rice especially in Andhra Pradesh, the state that had the maximum complaints about plastic rice. However, the FSSAI has said that if they receive any such complaints of plastic rice they will take it seriously and if found to be so will take action under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006.