The scientists cook and taste samples of rice on offer at state tenders before they are accepted. The process, which began late last year, has so far eliminated Indian origin rice and approved of Chinese and Vietnamese offers.
Egypt has spent $46.8 million on Chinese rice in two tenders since November. A third is ongoing.
Egyptians are major rice consumers and take pride in the quality of their local crop. But after planting less local rice in 2018 to conserve water, Egypt tapped the international market in November, requesting samples for a cooking test.
Rice is a heavily discounted staple on Egypt’s subsidy programme, under which the state purchases foodstuffs that are offered to subsidy card holders, currently around 60 million people.
The scientists’ role is to ensure that the rice bought by the state is suited to familiar cooking methods and tastes.
“Here, as a unit, we are all (academic) doctors as well as mothers in our homes,” said Nahed Lotfy, director of the test kitchen. “We are all trained judges who have completed training courses.”
Samples are anonymized, said Nasra Ahmed, one of the taste testers. “We get a sample on which we have almost no information at all,” she said. “Everything arrives with a code.”
Researchers inspect grains for water absorption, colour and smell. After cooking, the rice is presented to the tasters.
“We evaluate the product based on colour, taste, aroma, flavour, as well as general response,” Lotfy said.
Researchers cannot wear perfume or smoke cigarettes. Sliced apples and water act as palate cleansers.