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Where is Uncle Ben’s in all this Rice Brouhaha?


Uncle Ben’s parboiled long grain Rice was the first successful result of years of innovation and invention in the area of producing and marketing rice that has all the vital nutrients intact during the  production process, while presenting grains that resisted weevil infestation and didn’t become soggy after cooking.

Even though Ben was a popular and successful rice farmer in Texas in his time, the famous Uncle Ben’s brand name was coincidentally chosen out of a need to drive the advertising of the top quality parboiled brand of rice which the American populace found hard to adopt at that time. It had nothing to do with the successful rice farmer named Ben.

The Uncle Ben’s parboiled rice is notable for adopting Erich Huzenlaub’s system of rice production which eliminated the unhygienic, laborious and cumbersome manner of rice processing that obtained before the 1940s.

The man whose image features on the pack of the product is Frank Brown, a genial restaurant host whose amiable disposition endeared him to the advertising agents that patronized the restaurant he worked in at that time. Frank Brown agreed for a portrait of his to adorn the rice pack for a $500 compensation. His image paired well with the name, and together, they became a brand identity that consumers gradually embraced.

The delicious, fast cooking rice came into high demand from the 50s through the 90s, in the United States and other countries.

Parboiled rice is rice that has been pre-cooked in the course of processing it after harvesting.
Converted rice is rice that has been cooked further in production, after parboiling.
These types of rice do not need to be washed before cooking. Non parboiled or unconverted rice on the other hand should be washed thoroughly until the water runs clean, to reduce it of excess starch before cooking.

Uncle Ben’s parboiled, long grain rice was originally owned by converted Rice Inc. but was later bought by Mars Inc. The product origininated from Texas in the mid 40s but became America’s best from the 50s through the 90s.
The product, along with other popular brands like Thailand Parboiled Rice, hit the Nigerian market in the 80’s during the second republic, under the rule of Shehu Shagari.

Incidentally, reports have it that when the decision was taken to open Nigerian ports to the importation of rice, Mr. Audu Ogbeh, the current Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development warned strongly against rice importation and advised that Nigeria focus instead on cultivating its own rice to build the economy.

Unfortunately, his caution was thrown over board and the country went ahead to experience what was popularly tagged the rice Armada.
Today, about three decades after, Nigeria has come to appreciate cultivation of local rice and that cabinet minister of the 80’s now has to deal with the back log of a country that didn’t heed his foresight.

That is how Uncle Ben’s rice climbed down our shelves, through the ports and back to its home country.

Uche Onunkwo
I am Uche Onunkwo, an optimistic journalist with a flair for adventures. I am a presenter, a writer, storyteller, an editor, and a voice over artist.


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