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Queen's University boffins discover solution to purifying rice

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 23/07/2015

Queen’s University Professor Andy Meharg
Queen’s University Professor Andy Meharg

A world-leading health breakthrough to remove carcinogenic arsenic from rice has been discovered in Belfast - using a simple shop-bought coffee percolator.

Researchers at Queen's University are now patenting its rice cooking percolation method, which means consumers could soon have this technology in their own kitchens.

It will result in the development of a bespoke rice cooker.

Too much arsenic in the body - which most people associate with 19th and 20th century murders - is linked with a range of health problems including in severe cases, bladder and lung cancer.

Rice - which has 10 times more inorganic arsenic than other foods - is the only major crop grown under flooded conditions in paddy fields. It's this flooding that releases inorganic arsenic, normally locked up in soil minerals, which is then absorbed by the rice plant.

Professor Andy Meharg from the university's Institute for Global Food Security has led the development of the technology and published his research results in the PLOS ONE journal.

He said: "This is a very significant breakthrough as this offers an immediate solution to decreasing inorganic arsenic in the diet.

"There needs to be continuously clean hot water going through the rice in order to leech out inorganic arsenic.

"The arsenic in the water stays in the container at the bottom while the rice remains in the filter. That's basically the idea and how a coffee percolator works.

"You essentially could so this yourself at home tonight but if you were to do it at a family scale you would need a very large coffee percolator," he added.

The 51-year-old professor of Plant and Soil Sciences spoke on the hidden danger of arsenic in rice on C4's Dispatches last year.

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