BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA, U.S. — Researchers at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge have grown rice cultivars with protein levels over 10%. Their findings eventually may lead to more nutritious gluten-free products. While rice is gluten-free, its protein content, normally in single-digit percentage levels, does not compare to the protein content of gluten-containing wheat.

“We are now studying exactly how flour from this rice bakes differently than other rice flour,” said Herry Utomo, PhD, a professor at LSU’s Rice Research Station. “The interest in gluten-free baked products continues to grow. This will present another opportunity for rice growers to give people what they are looking for.”

The rice varieties also could feed people who are not eating enough nutrients daily.

“There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who depend on rice and eat it three times a day, but their access to protein is very limited by availability and cost,” Utomo said. “High-protein rice can be used to help solve the worldwide problem across social, cultural and economic issues.”

Utomo and his team at LSU already developed Frontiere, a rice cultivar released in 2017. Marketed as Cahokia rice and grown commercially in Illinois, it has a protein content of 10.6% on average, which marks a 53% increase compared to its original protein content. The high-protein rice needs less heat, time and usually less water to cook, according to LSU.

Breeding a crop for more protein may reduce a crop’s yield. The researchers thus tested 20 new lines of high-protein rice and improved yield by 11% to 17% when compared to the yield of Frontiere. Grain quality, including gel temp, pasting and cooking quality, varied among the high-protein lines.

“Because the original line is new to the market, marketing channels have to be put in place,” Utomo said. “In parallel, research for the next generation of high-protein rice lines is being carried out.”