The Rice Stuff – Germany and Belgium

September 2004

Rice is a staple food in many parts of the world, especially Asia. However, in countries such as Germany and Belgium, rice-based products have established a niche market for healthy snack foods and drinks. Imagine Foods produces a rice-based drink called Rice Dream, which has penetrated markets in Europe. Grain Cake Bakery in Belgium produces a variety of rice cakes, which many people enjoy as a healthy snack.

Rice and Cholesterol

The growing incidence of heart disease in industrialised cultures is largely related to the management of dietary intake. With plant sterols in foods such as rice milk and rice cakes, it is becoming easier to manage such intake. Studies indicate that incorporating plant sterols and stanols into the diet may be an effective way of lowering cholesterol levels.

Heart Foundation Advice

  • A daily intake of 2-3g of plant sterols or stanols reduces cholesterol levels by 10 per cent to 15 per cent.
  • Plant sterols and stanols lower cholesterol in various groups including those of normal or hyper cholesterol levels, males, females, adults and children.
  • The intake of plant sterols and stanols is complementary to cholesterol lowering eating patterns.
  • In order to minimise any decrease in other vital nutrients that may be associated with the short-term consumption of plant sterols and stanols, the diet should include a daily intake of yellow and orange vegetables and fruits.
  • There is no evidence that would lead to safety concerns associated with the short-term consumption of plant sterols and stanols, but no long-term safety tests have been performed.

Plant sterols and stanols are naturally occurring steroid alcohols, very similar in structure to cholesterol. The difference is the presence of a methyl or ethyl group in their side chains. This means that, in comparison to cholesterol, plant sterols and stanols are minimally absorbed. Cholesterol must exist in a soluble form to be absorbed.

Plant sterols and stanols reduce cholesterol absorption by competing with cholesterol for uptake. When less dietary cholesterol is absorbed, less cholesterol is returned to the liver. For about 40 years it has been recognised that higher levels of consumption of plant sterols and stanols can interfere with cholesterol absorption and result in decreased cholesterol levels.

For people with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, plant sterols and stanols provide an additional option for risk reduction of heart disease by lowering the level of cholesterol. However, with long-term safety studies yet to be completed, the Heart Foundation does not encourage a radical change of diet.

Plant sterols and stanols are not produced by animals or the human body, but are natural substances found in wood pulp, leaves, nuts, vegetable oils, corn, and in this case rice. The major plant sterol is sitosterol (constituting approximately 80 per cent of sterol presence). Others present in the diet include campesterol and stigmasterol, as well as trace amounts of plant stanols such as sitostanol. The average Western diet contains 160 to 360 mg/day of sitosterol and campesterol, and 20 to 50 mg/day of sitastonal. Dietary intake of plant sterols in a traditional Asian diet is 350-400 mg/day and 600-800 mg/day in a strict vegetarian diet.

Rice Dream

© Courtesy of IRRI
© Courtesy of IRRI

Rice Dream is a low-fat drink made by Imagine Foods from organically grown brown rice. Robert Nissenbaum originally founded Imagine Foods in Missouri in 1982. Over the following 20 years, through a process of growth and change, Imagine Foods steadily spread its market for all-natural foods. In the summer of 1984, Robert and his partner took some of their products, including an early version of the Rice Dream beverage, to a natural food industry trade show. Distributors from all over the USA were interested in one product in particular – Rice Dream Frozen Dessert, a non-dairy alternative to ice cream. As a result, the small company moved to Northern California. Twenty years on, Imagine Foods make some of the best-selling organic and natural brands, of which Rice Dream is among the most popular. The market has spread beyond the shores of the USA, and factories exist in Europe – for example, in Cologne, Germany.


The Rice Dream non-dairy beverage is made without artificial flavours, colours, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics or soy. Rice Dream Heartwise is enriched with vitamins A, D and B12 and has the same calcium as dairy milk. It also contains ‘CoroWise’, a marketed form of plant sterols.

To make rice milk at home, you need four cups (approximately 250ml each) of hot/warm water, one cup of cooked rice (white or brown), and one tablespoon (15 ml) of vanilla to flavour. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Let the milk set for about 30 minutes and then, without shaking, pour the milk into another container, leaving most of the sediment in the first container. This makes four or five cups.

Rice Cakes

In Maldegam, Belgium, producers and consumers are benefiting from the healthy associations of rice in a different way. Here, Grain Cake Bakery makes rice cakes, which have become a popular choice of snack food for the healthier minded individual. Rice cakes are made from specially formulated and treated rice mixtures. The rice mixtures are placed into a mould and exposed to extreme heat and pressure for a brief period of time, causing the kernels to ‘pop.’ The cakes are then allowed to expand within the confines of the mould, where they reach their finished state. The completed cakes are then released from the moulds, and packaged to protect them from the air. As a wheat-free snack, rice cakes are ideal for people with wheat allergies (although some multigrain varieties may also add puffed wheat).

Recipe for six rice cakes
3 cups (250ml each) of cooked rice, cooled;
170 g/6 ounces of plain flour;
2 teaspoons of hoisin sauce;
1 teaspoon of baking powder;
½ teaspoon of salt;
½ pint/235 ml of coconut milk;
30 ml/1 fluid ounce of sesame oil.
[Note: 1 teaspoon = 5 ml]

Rice Cake Nutritional Information

Per 9 g slice per 100 g
Energy 120 kJ
28 calories
1669 kJ
394 calories
Protein 0.6 g 8.1 g
Carbohydrate 6.0 g 83.1 g
 of which sugars 0.3 g 2.9 g
Fat 0.2 g 3.2 g
 of which saturates 0.1 g 0.9 g
Dietary fibre 0.1 g 1.2 g
Sodium trace 0.2 g

Rice cakes may contain white or whole-grain rice, wild rice, corn, or other grains. To supplement the flavour, they may also be combined with other ingredients such as cheese, sesame seeds, sea vegetables, spices, or honey. Besides the traditional round version, rice cakes are available in squares and small, bite-sized rounds. Low sodium varieties are also available.

More Than Meets the Eye

With such a diverse range of products descended from rice, it is clear that the well-known plant is more versatile than is immediately apparent. While a staple food containing vital nutrients in some parts of the world, it can also be transformed into a pleasant and healthy snack in others. Grain Cake Bakery and Imagine Foods have capitalised upon this to forge a niche market for their products.


This case study draws on articles by the Heart Foundation of Australia and Imagine Foods.

Further Information

Grain Cake Bakery

Imagine Foods

The National Heart Foundation of Australia

Donor and Supporting Organisations

Department for International Development (DFID)



ITDG Technical Briefs