Carnaroli rice, an Italian excellence that reduces the glycemic response. Scientific study

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Carnaroli rice – a variety of superfine Italian rice, much appreciated for the preparation of risottos (1) – also stands out, compared to others, for its ability to reduce the glycemic response. This authentic Italian excellence is therefore useful in composing the Mediterranean diet and the gluten-free diet, for people intolerant to it (celiac disease).

1) Rice, Italian rice. Premise

The plant annual herbaceous rice plant (Oryza sativa L.) belongs to the family of poaceae. Its morphological characteristics include a thin and elongated stem, lanceolate leaves and a panicle inflorescence bearing rice grains. The plant adapts to different climatic conditions but prefers humid environments and its cultivation in flooded rice fields is therefore widespread. (2)

Rice growing in Italy it has a history of over two thousand years in Sicily and five hundred years in the Po Valley (Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna), as we have seen (3,4). And it still stands out both for its quality, linked to the numerous native varieties and production ecosystems, and for its production volumes which still lead in Europe (49% of total production in the EU).

2) Carnaroli rice, ‘the king of rice’

The variety of Italian Carnaroli rice was selected in the 40s in a rice field near Milan by crossing cultivate Vialone and Lencino. Carnaroli is known as ‘the king of rice’ for its greater length (class A), higher starch content and firmer consistency compared to the common Arborio rice. As well as for its excellent cooking resistance.

The ‘king of rice’ thus it continues to be cultivated – in Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, along the Po river delta – precisely thanks to its superior quality, despite its low production potential and susceptibility to fungal diseases. Its cultivation requires specific techniques, such as a late vegetative cycle of 165 days and a sowing rate of 180-200 kg/ha.

3) Carnaroli rice, quality regimes

Some supply chains of Carnaroli rice production are registered as DOP (or PDO, Protected Designation of Origin) or PGI (or PGI, Protected Geographical Indication), within the quality regimes established at European level. In particular, they refer to:

 rice from Baraggia Biellese, Vercellese Biellese and Vercellese DOP,

– Po Delta rice PGI.

4) Italian rice, Carnaroli and gluten-free diet

The gluten-free diet it is the only cure for celiac patients and yet it exposes them – as we have seen (5) – to some risks including the onset of type 2 diabetes, since ‘gluten-free’ cereals have a higher glycemic index compared to those that contain gluten.

A systematic review – ‘Nutritional Properties of Rice Varieties Commonly Consumed in Italy and Applicability in Gluten Free Diet‘ (Vici et al., 2021) analyzes the nutritional characteristics of the most popular rice varieties in Italy, including Carnaroli, to identify those most suitable for gluten-free diets. (6)

4.1) Methods and results

Researchers analyzed six varieties of rice – Ribe, Vialone Nano, Carnaroli, Arborio, Basmati and Fragrance – both in the raw state and after cooking with different methods (i.e. boiling, stewing, microwave). With the aim of evaluating the variations in protein, total carbohydrate and starch contents following cooking.

cooking – and boiling, above all – reduces the quantities of total proteins and carbohydrates in rice, with a significant decrease in a starch component, amylose. The latter is instead useful for slowing down and reducing the glycemic response, as it is less available to degradation by digestive enzymes (7,8,9).

Carnaroli rice, stood out from the others precisely for its ability to preserve the nutritional properties and retain the largest amylose content following boiling, as well as Arborio and Basmati following stewing. Further studies will be able to confirm the reduced glycemic index, in these three varieties, after cooking with the methods described.

Dario Dongo

Footnotes

(1) GIFT. Types of Rice. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 14.11.16 https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/riso/tipi-di-riso/

(2) Oryza sativa L. subsp. Sativa, Acta Plantarum https://tinyurl.com/2ucfkc8d

(3) Federica Genovese, Dario Dongo. Rice in Sicily, the rebirth. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(4) Rice production. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(5) Vici G, Perinelli DR, Camilletti D, Carotenuto F, Belli L, Polzonetti V. Nutritional Properties of Rice Varieties Commonly Consumed in Italy and Applicability in Gluten Free Diet. Foods. 2021 Jun 14;10(6):1375. doi: 10.3390/foods10061375

(6) The gluten-free diet increases the risk of diabetes. Harvard researchers explain the damage of a reckless eating trend. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 3.4.17 https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/salute/gluten-free-aumenta-il-rischio-diabete/

(7) Amylose is converted into resistant starch, which is involved in improving glucose and insulin homeostasis parameters and has a cholesterol-lowering effect. See notes 8,9

(8) Harris K.F. An introductory review of resistant starch type 2 from high-amylose cereal grains and its effect on glucose and insulin homeostasis. Nutr. Rev. 2019;77:748–764. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz040

(9) Sissons M., Sestili F., Botticella E., Masci S., Lafiandra D. Can Manipulation of Durum Wheat Amylose Content Reduce the Glycaemic Index of Spaghetti? Foods. 2020;9:693. doi: 10.3390/foods9060693

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.