Interview with Widi {Functional Rice Expert}

Analyzing rice compounds

Ever since I began my blog, I told Widi I wanted to interview her. At last we did it.

Widi, who is from Indonesia, moved to the area where my parents live a few years ago to begin a PhD. As there are hardly any Indonesian people there, she quickly adopted my mum as her aunty. Therefore Widi is like my adopted little cousin.

Widi is uber sweet and incredibly brainy. The reason for the interview is that Widi is a food technologist and the PhD she is doing is on rice.

Why did you decide to be a food technologist?

There are so many people in the world and we all need food to live. I believe there are so many options in the study of functional food to help us stay healthy and improve our lives.

What is functional food?

Functional food is food that has more natural benefits than regular food. It is food that is similar in appearance to conventional food and consumed as part of a normal diet with demonstrated physiological benefits or reducing the risk of cronic disease beyond basic nutritional function.

Does this mean it is organic or transgenic (or any other label)?

It has nothing to do with being organic, transgenic, or whatever. For example with rice, the difference would be that after the harvesting, rice undergoes a series of processes such as milling and polishing where depending on the different techniques used, they can loose some of their compounds. Thus they loose plenty of nutritional value and benefits.

The food that has been processed in a way that it retains as many of its natural benefits as possible is what is called functional food.

What is the exact subject of your PdD?

The field is analytical chemistry in the research of functional food based of rice. I look for bioactive compounds in rice and its extra nutritional value to develop functional products for South East Asia.

Apart from the usual nutritional aspects such as vitamins, I analyze the levels of melatonin, serotonin, phenolic acid, flavonoids, anthocyanins and tryptophan. Until now the main object of my research is on the amount of melatonin found in rice.

I look for the bioactive compounds in different types of rice and after each step of the processes from farm to fork.

How do you hope the findings of your investigations can be applied to everyday life?

Melatonin is a neurohormone that regulates other hormones to regulate our body’s biorhythm. Nowadays people take melatonin to sleep, for stress, jet lag and adjust the body for shift work. It would be better if people consume functional food instead of taking melatonin as a drug.

Can you explain some of your findings?

Different types of rice have different melatonin levels. The highest is in wild rice from North America. The one with least amount is Basmati rice. The different ways the rice is processed also affects their levels of melatonin.

I am possibly in the middle of some other very interesting findings but I cannot come to any conclusion about them yet.

Who is your idol in science?

Albert Lehninger. He is a biochemist who made very important discoveries in metabolism on a molecular level.

Do you like to cook?

I love cooking but at the moment I don’t have time to, so I go to visit my aunty when I want to eat well. Daily, I miss her refrigerator.

When I do cook, my speciality are wontons.

What is your favourite food?

Rice. I love rice. Also: bakso, lemper, empek empek. These are all Indonesian food. In Spain I discovered the seafood navajas which I love.

 Types of rice

Notes:

  • The photo was taken a few years ago and provided to me by Widi.
  • The diagram of the different types of rice was provided to me by Widi.
  • I’m also a bit of a fan of Lehninger as I studied with his books too.
  • I’ve edited the interview slightly because it was conducted half in Indonesian.

A big thank you from Widi for reading!

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