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In Taiwan, the challenge of finding outlets for surplus rice

Nature

In a small room in an industrial building in Taoyuan, a 45-minute drive from Taipei, around ten employees knead dough. In large mixers, others prepare the dough which will be used to make 2,000 bagels and 6,000 mantuos every day, small, light and soft steamed buns, popular in Taiwan.

At Roomy, an emerging company, pastries are not made only with wheat flour. Rice flour replaces 50% of traditional flour.

We use special rice flour from Taiwanexplains founder Brian Lang. It is called japonica. It makes our buns less dense and gives them a softer texture.

Long before using professional equipment and hiring around twenty people, Brian Lang started making his own mantous with his wife at home five years ago. Struggling with gluten intolerance, he was simply looking to create great-tasting rolls.

Nearly 80% of our ingredients come from Taiwan, from local producers. I have always been aware that the majority of wheat flour used here comes from abroad. During my research on the subject, I eventually realized that the proportion of food products coming from Taiwan is very low.

Employees prepare 2,000 bagels and 6,000 bagels every day at Roomy.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Afore Hsieh

The question of food self-sufficiency is increasingly raised on the island of Taiwan, which depends on foreigners for two thirds of its food. The threat of a Chinese blockade is real, climate change affects the products grown and the appetite of the Taiwanese has transformed, and westernized, over time.

Consumption of bread and pasta has increased and rice is used less than before. Taiwan now imports 1.5 million tonnes of wheat flour and produces too much rice for its own consumption. Even today, rice fields cover 240,000 hectares of the island.

The focus has always been on rice production in Taiwansays Yang Min-hsien, professor of agricultural economics at Feng Chia University. The government has established a guaranteed purchase price policy for rice. But consumption is falling. We produce so much rice that we no longer know what to do with it.

In order to avoid rice losses and ensure greater food self-sufficiency, the Taiwanese government launched a program in 2010 to diversify products made from rice.

We started by doing research to understand the characteristics of rice and the application properties of rice flour. Then, we ourselves developed new manufacturing techniques. And we encouraged companies to come up with new products using what we developed.

The number of Taiwanese products made from rice flour has increased from 30 in 2010 to more than 200 today, including Brian Lang’s bagels and mantous.

Brian Lang, thumbs up, in front of employees busy in a kitchen.

A very personal problem motivated Brian Lang to create his company Roomy’s products: gluten intolerance.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Philippe Leblanc

On the other hand, under this public-private partnership, all additional costs and financial risks are absorbed by the companies, from manufacturing to packaging. Rice flour costs at least 50% more than wheat flour. For Roomy company products, it is even three times more expensive.

The Taiwanese government does not provide subsidies to convert production, but it makes its research on rice and production methods available to companies. It also helps with marketing.

There is a price difference between wheat flour and rice flourrecognizes Song Hung-yi, of Taiwan’s Food and Agriculture Agency. We have a public policy guaranteeing a stable price for rice flour. It helps. Then we help companies that already have mass production with their marketing to outdoor markets, supermarkets and food fairs.

The Taiwanese government also chooses 10 winners each year in a public competition from companies manufacturing rice flour products. Brian Lang and his company Roomy are among this year’s winners and will receive their prize in December. They will now be able to benefit from government advertising.

Our main goal is to vary our flavors of bagels and sw rollssays Brian Lang. In the next phase, we plan to use rice flour from here and Japan to create completely gluten-free foods.

Other rice-based foods could also be developed, according to Professor Yang Min-hsien, and perhaps even animal food. We can thus redefine and further reconsider the entire rice industry. The ultimate goal is to ensure our food security.

For the Roomy company, it is a transformation of eating habits carried out one mantou at a time.

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