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Rice products often get a lot of flack for their supposed lack of nutritional benefits. But now science has found a way to beef up its health benefits, which could go straight to cereals and snacks. Researchers have found a way to make puffed rice with way more protein, fiber, and vitamins than what’s currently on the marketMicronutrient and protein-fortified whole grain puffed rice made by supercritical fluid extrusion. Paraman, I., Wagner, M.E., Rizvi, S.S. Institute of Food Science, Cornell University, 151 Stocking Hall, Ithaca, New York. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 2012 Nov 7;60(44):11188-94. doi: 10.1021/jf3034804. Epub 2012 Oct 26..

The Science

Commercial puffed rice is produced through steam extrusion, meaning a mixture of rice flour and water is pushed through a narrow nozzle while under high heat and pressure. When the mixture pops out, the steam expands and escapes — and the rice puffs up. The problem is that heat-sensitive nutrients are also destroyed in the process, leaving the little pieces of rice lacking much (re: any) of their nutritional value.

Scientists wanted to figure out a way to puff up rice — both literally and figurately — to recreate this inflated foodstuff that’s also nutritionally rich. Using CO2, they discovered a way to puff up rice at a lower temperature, thereby avoiding the destruction of key nutrients. The result? A product with three times more protein and eight times more dietary fiber than commercial puffed rice, along with higher amounts of vitamins A and C, zinc, and iron. Still, realize this: Puffed rice isn’t actually whole rice grains, but instead a product formed and processed from a mixture of water and grain flour.

Why It Matters

As a serial cereal lover, there’s nothing worse than enjoying a bowl in the morning only to be hungry an hour later. One cup of puffed rice cereal (like Quaker and Arrowhead Mills Puffed Rice) has only 60 calories, with 1 gram of protein, 0 grams of fiber, and many more zeros on its nutrition label (hence the grumbling stomach soon after). While some cereals have a decent amount of protein and fiber, they can also be loaded with sugar. This new method of puffing up rice could mean the best of both worlds: a cereal higher in protein and fiber without a sky-high amount of sugar, sodium, and calories.

Plus, a little puffed rice goes a long way. We’re not just talking cereal bowls — puffed rice is also found in granola bars, savory snacks, and even home-cooked meals. Swapping this super-nutrition puffed rice for its dull version automatically means healthier food options all around the grocery store.

Have a favorite food item with puffed rice? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author @lschwech.

Photo: JimmyCoupe