Thailand’s Colored Rice Standard and Markets

Thailand’s Colored Rice Standard and Markets

Published: 2020.02.21
Accepted: 2020.02.20
Associate Professor
Deputy department head of international affairs and the chair of agricultural and resource economics international programs at Kasetsart University


Colored rice is considered a specialty rice and the market is still very small compared to normal white rice. The price of colored rice is generally set much higher than normal rice as the supply is limited while the demand for it is growing as consumers become more aware of its health benefits. Along with local varieties, Thailand has developed new colored rice varieties that are more nutritious and more palatable to consumers’ preferences. As the market for Thai colored rice is expanding, the Thai government has recently set standard for Thai colored rice so that consumers can be more confident about the quality of Thai colored rice products. Nevertheless, the market for colored rice is small and colored rice is often sold by farmers or farmers groups, there remain challenges to develop a more structured market, and challenges for producers to realize consumers’ demand.

Keywords: colored rice, pigmented rice, specialty rice


Rice is typically consumed as white rice; however, there are some rice varieties that contain pigments such as black, purple, and red in the pericarp or in the bran of the rice kernel. Colored rice (or pigmented rice) is generally known as unpolished rice that contains some pigments retaining from removing only husk and small amount of outer layer while the embryo is typically white. The shades of colored rice ranges from dark red, dark purple, dark blue, red brown, black purple, to dark red-purple depending on the mixture of anthocyanins.  Anthocyanins, a group of reddish to purple water-soluble flavonoids, are thought as the major functional components of colored rice (Deng et al., 2013). Colored rice contains a variety of flavones, tannin, phenolics, sterols, tocols, γ -oryzanols, amino acids, and essential oils known to have free-radical-scavenging, antioxidant capacities, and other health benefits. Many studies have demonstrated antioxidant activity, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, antimutagenic and hypoglycemic activities of pigmented rice (Tangsrianugul, et al., 2019). In addition, colour rice is a good source of minerals, fiber, vitamins, and other phytochemicals; for example, black and dark purple rice is rich in protein, fat and crude fiber while red rice is high in iron and zinc which has good benefits to health.

Micronutrient deficiencies in rice-consuming countries particularly the lack of iron, zinc, and vitamin A has become prevalent (International Rice Research Institute, 2018). Colored rice, along with biofortified rice, and transgenic rice (i.e. golden rice) have potentials to solve this problem. This paper will focus on the emerging market of colored rice with the focus on new Thai colored rice standard.


Colored rice has been used as functional food in Thailand. Thai consumers and consumers in Southeast Asia regularly prefer aromatic and soft long grain rice (Custodio et al., 2016). Colored rice (especially landraces and local varieties), however, is often less palatable than white rice due to hardiness and course texture. However, due to health benefits of colored rice and improved varieties adjusting to consumers preferences, the demand for colored rice has been increasing.

Colored rice is generally consumed by health conscious and older consumers. The domestic annual demand for colored rice grains is about 60,000 -70,000 tons with the growth rate of 2-3% annually (Wattanutchariya et al., 2016). Among black rice, Riceberry has the largest market at about 20,000 tons/year while Hom Nil is about half of it. For red rice, the demands for Sangyod and Red Hom Mali are about 10,000 tons/year each.  For black glutinous rice, Luem Pua and others generally are consumed as desserts, so the demand is not as much as non-glutinous colored rice. The market for Luem Pua is about 2,000 tons/year while that of other black glutinous rice is about 5,000-6,000 tons/year.

There are little studies on colored rice preferences in Thailand. Wattanutchariya et al. (2016) found that the reasons that consumers buy colored rice are due to nutritional values, followed by health reasons, and defense for diseases. Poomipak et al. (2018) found that among elderly 60 years old or older mostly consume white polished rice due to its softness, They also liked the texture of unpolished color rice or brown rice mixed with polished white rice rather than unpolished color rice alone. However, their attitudes show that brown rice and colored rice are both beneficial to health. Among nine brown rice and colored rice varieties, Hom Mali (Jasmine) brown rice which is aromatic soft long grain rice ranks high in appearance, color, aroma, flavor, sweetness, overall taste, hardness, softness, tooth pack and overall liking while Kam Luem Pua (black glutinous) and Kam Doi Saket (black) are insignificantly different. It implies that with more nutrition, black rice has high potentials for elderly consumers especially with further improved soft texture.

The market of colored rice in both domestic and international fronts is expanding. The markets for Thai colored rice include China, Singapore, Hong Kong, the U.S, European countries and Australia (Wattanutchariya et al., 2016). From 2008 to 2017, the export of colored rice from Thailand increased from 6,019 tons to 12,126 tons (Matichon online, 2019). The export of black cargo rice, particularly, expanded from 68 tons to 1,779 tons during the same period. The average price of colored rice also increased from US$907 /ton to US$1,245 /ton. The quantity and value of colored rice export from Thailand is still relatively much lower than other types of rice such as Hom Mali and due to limited supply that unmatched domestic demand. Colored rice is also processed to higher value products such as cosmetics, processed food i.e. noodles, cookies, and food supplements, which will make the demand for colored rice more distinguished in the future (Teodoro, 2018).

The domestic price of colored rice varies depending on the quality which are often distinguished by production standards such as good agricultural practices (GAPs), organic, geographical indication (GI). Prices also depend on market outlets e.g. online, supermarkets, farmers market tradeshows, etc. and also depend on the season. Table 1 shows the retail online price of selected colored rice compared to popular aromatic rice. Generally, colored rice is priced much higher than white aromatic rice.

In several major rice consuming countries, specifically ASEAN member countries, the imports of premium rice including colored rice have been increasing due to increasing per capita income, urbanization and health consciousness of consumers (Department of International Trade Promotion, 2019). This creates opportunities for Thai colored rice exports such as Riceberry, Hom Nil, Red Hom Mali.

In the European market, rice in niche market comes from various countries; for example, glutinous black rice from Thailand, black rice from China and Italy, wild rice from North America, and red rice varieties from France, Thailand and Bhutan (Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries, 2019). The per capita consumption of rice in Europe has increased from 4.7 kg in 2005 to 5.5 kg in 2016, as consumers’ diets have diversified from traditional starch components such as bread, pasta or potatoes. As the supply of rice in Europe is not expected to grow, this will increase rice imports further (European Commission, 2016).

In France, consumers are more conscious about health. The French government has been promoting healthy diets, and rice, particularly brown rice and colored rice, is suggested for regular consumption. Rice is also good for gluten allergenic consumers in general. The retail price of specialty rice i.e. red rice, while rice and glutinous rice ranges between 10 and 20 Euros/kg while European origin rice i.e. Arborio (Italy), Bomba (Spain), and Camargue (France) is priced at 3-5 Euros/kg (Department of International Trade Promotion, 2017). Other imported rice from Asia including Basmati and Thai Hom Mali is sold at 2-4 Euros/kg. As colored rice is distinguished in its nutrition, its educational health benefits can also promote the expansion of colored rice in the European market.

The black rice market in the U.S. is a small niche market, but American consumers are familiar with the health benefits of black rice which is high in antioxidants and anthocyanins (Department of International Trade Promotion, 2015). Black rice, namely Black Japonica rice, Black pearl rice, and Blanca Isabel rice, is also produced in California and Louisiana states of the U.S. It was estimated that the number of American consumers for black rice is about 1.2 million persons, and each would consume 11 kg/year (Department of International Trade Promotion, 2015). The demand for black rice is estimated for about 13,500 ton/year while the demand is only about 12,700 ton/year. As a result, the U.S. imports black rice from other counties, namely China, Philippines, India and Thailand. The black rice varieties imported from Thailand include Riceberry and Hom Nil.


Colored rice varieties can be both landraces or local varieties that are not improved but have undergone pure line selection or improved varieties, a result of formal breeding programs. Selected black and red rice varieties are summarized in Tables 2 and 3. These varieties are popularly cultivated and consumed in the domestic market. Noticeable, they have high contents of vitamins, minerals. Some of the popular improved varieties such as Riceberry are soft as reflected by AC and good cooking quality as reflected by the gelatinization temperature (GT) (Lee et al., 2019).


Recognizing the increasing demand for colored rice market, in both domestic and international fronts, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has issued Thai agricultural standard of Thai colored rice in 2017 (National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards, 2017). Under this standard, there are three colored rice products: paddy rice, husked rice (also commonly called cargo rice, loonzain rice, and brown rice), and partially milled rice.

The standard classifies colored rice into two groups by color:

A) Husked rice with purple or blackish purple pericarp including non-glutinous varieties such as Mali Nil Surin, Hom Nil, Riceberry, and glutinous varieties such as Luem Phua, Niaw Dam Cho Mai Phai 49, and Niaw Dam Mo 37.

B) Husked rice with red pericarp including non-glutinous varieties such as Sang Yot Phattalung, RD69 (Thubthim Chum Phae), Hom Kulap Daeng, Hom Daeng (Red Hom Mali), Hom Kra Dang Nga 59, and Mali Komen Surin.

The standard also classified colored rice varieties into four groups by Amylose Content (AC) (by mass at 14% moisture content) which reflects the cooking quality or the texture of cooked rice. They can be grouped as

A) Soft tender non-glutinous rice group. Starch of this rice has low AC (< 20%). After cooking, the rice stays tender and relatively sticky.

B) Medium hard friable non-glutinous rice group. Starch of this rice has medium AC (20% - 25%). After cooking, the rice stays friable and relatively tender.

C) Hard non-glutinous rice group. Starch of this rice has high AC (> 25%). After cooking, the rice stays friable and hard.

D) Glutinous rice group. Starch of glutinous rice has very low or no AC. It has alkaline spreading values of 6-7. After cooking, the rice becomes sticky and aggregate.

Examples of black/purple tender non-glutinous rice varieties are shown in Table 4.

Paddy rice products have three quality grades: very good, good, and standard depending on (% of kernels with the color of its group, and % of off-color kernels.  Husked rice products have four quality grades, namely excellent, very good, good, and standard. The quality of each class is distinguished by color of the kernel (% of kernels with the color of its group, and % of off-color kernels); grain composition (whole kernels, head rice and broken); parts of head rice; parts of broken; and maximum allowance of other rice kernels and foreign matter i.e. seeds of other plants, undeveloped kernels, other colored kernels, etc.  Table 5 shows specifications of four quality standard of black/purple non-glutinous husked rice.

Other characteristics of colored rice products include pesticide residuals, hygiene, and contaminants following other similar Thai rice product standards. This standard also includes method of sampling and analysis.

The package of colored rice should state the name of the product as “Thai Colored Rice” or the other names that refer to its color may also be shown, variety name (if the rice is sold as a specific variety). The minimum weight required to be named the variety is 90% or accompanied with a document ensuring that the rice is of the specified variety, and able to prove that it is of the characteristics of its specified variety. Net weight and grade shall be indicated. Best before date and/or date of manufacturing or date of packaging (day, month, year) must be included. In case of Thai husked rice, a best before date shall be indicated (National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards, 2017).

In addition, the Ministry of Commerce released standard for Thai colored rice products which became in effected in April 2019 (Ministry of Commerce, 2019). Unlike the Thai Colored Rice standard of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, this standard focuses mainly on husked rice and milled rice products for export market. The Ministry of Commerce standard is recommended for export products to add value to Thai colored rice and to promote good quality colored rice from Thailand to be more recognized by consumers.  For non-glutinous rice, there are only two quality classes: prime quality and superb quality while glutinous rice is classified into two classes as best quality and standard quality for black/purple glutinous rice and prime quality and superb quality for red glutinous rice. Colored rice of all types and grades must meet minimum standard of moisture content not exceeding 14%, no live insects, long grain kernels having the average length of whole kernels without broken parts exceeding 6.2 mm, and intrinsic color or color of kernels shall be uniform by nature related to that colour group. Each quality standard is specified in terms of damaged kernels, other colored kernels, other type kernels, paddy and undeveloped kernels (including immature kernels, other seeds and foreign matter).  The example of standard for non-glutinous rice of black, dark purple and purple colour is shown in Table 6. For specification of exported rice other than specified in the standards, the exporters have to declare the specifications of buying agreement and require a permit from the Department of Foreign Trade.


Although colored rice is becoming more popular and there are potentials to promote it to the export markets, there are also issues and challenges to develop the colored rice market. Colored rice has a small market and consumers may expect higher standards such as organic and GI of some registered GI local varieties. Despite its health benefits, little is known about the size of colored rice market and where potential consumers would be. Thus, understanding consumers’ preferences especially in export markets would be needed to appropriately promote the colored rice industry.

Farmers also would need to understand consumers’ needs and their expectations so that the products are more accepted and can be sold at good prices. Furthermore, the processing of small niche market is more challenging as colored rice is distinguished in its color so often the processors (millers) may not want to contaminate their other white rice with colored rice making it difficult for small farmers and farmer groups to find good reliable processors. It may also cause them more to process colored rice compared to white rice due to small volume that cannot take advantage of the economies of scale. Wattanutchariya et al. (2016) also found that for the marketing channels and prices are what domestic consumers concern when making the purchasing decision. A large share of colored rice is sold by farmers and farmers’ groups themselves as large millers are still reluctant to enter the market. Product developments and marketing campaigns that meet consumers preferences will have to be more developed for small-scale producers.

Although not a big problem at the moment, crop rotation between white and colored rice between seasons may create contamination of white and colored rice which will eventually affects the quality of both colored rice and white rice. Zoning rice cultivations by product groups i.e. white, colored, glutinous. aromatic rice products would not only minimize the risk of low quality products but also eliminate the problems of small volume for millers.

As mentioned earlier, the standard for colored rice is not mandatory for the domestic market. While nutritional values and health benefits might be what consumers concern most when selecting colored rice as their alternatives, the nutritional values are not mandatory in labeling either. Unless the packaged rice is fortified rice, the nutritional values such as added vitamins must be specified or if it is rice mix other ingredients, the ingredients must be stated.


Thailand has recognized the importance of colored rice market as higher income and aging consumers are becoming more concern with healthy diet, the standard for colored rice has been released for recommended quality products. Although it is not mandatory, products that meet standards will provide consumers with more confidence and will realize higher prices. As the market of colored rice is growing, there are opportunities for rice farmers and producers to reap the market share as new entrants. The development of new colored rice varieties that meet consumers’ taste and developing products to meet their demand will uplift the color rice market even further. As standards for colored rice is relatively new for Thai farmers, and several farmers and farmers groups are becoming entrepreneurs, their skills in developing products to meet the market demand are necessarily for the success of the market. Educating farmers about colored rice standard requirements and assisting them to meet quality standards such as providing them with access to seeds of colored rice varieties as well as knowledge transfer of production technology e.g. Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) will make them become more competitive in the market.


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