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Instant Ramen Goes Gluten-Free

by Dave Soref

For gluten minimizers on the go, the arrival of flavorful instant ramen noodles made from rice instead of wheat comes as welcome news. For citizens of the planet, Lotus Foods’ plans to revolutionize the way rice is grown, to be more sustainable and help small farmers, is great news.

Forbidden Rice Ramen, which cooks in four minutes, is 100 percent certified organic, gluten-free, and is the latest offering from the people at Lotus Foods. What makes this instant ramen especially exciting is that it is derived from black rice, which gets its rich, dark color from an abundance of anthocyanins, the same antioxidant found in blueberries.

As the healthy properties of black rice reach a wider audience, Lotus Foods’ co-founder Caryl Levine explains, “We were the first people to introduce black rice to the US market, and we have the trademark for Forbidden Rice,” as Lotus Foods’ imported black rice is called.

Under the slogan “Rice Is Life,” Lotus Foods imports a variety of organic, Fair Trade Certified, non-GMO rice from places like China, Indonesia, Cambodia and Madagascar.

“The journey began twenty years ago on a market research trip to China, with the understanding that rice is the basic caloric intake for three-quarters of the world’s population,” Levine says. “We saw that the biodiversity of rice was in jeopardy, as well as the livelihood of the farmers. We thought we could help protect the biodiversity of the world rice crop and improve the farmers’ situation with the introduction of fair trade and more sustainable growing methods.”

While having introduced entire lines of new rice into the US market over the last two decades, Levine points out that “Lotus Foods has been working with farmers who have never exported before, helping them through the steps of organic certification and getting their crops up to the standards of export to our markets.

“It’s challenging for a small company like ourselves,” Levine confesses, “but that’s the way we want to do business.”

For the people at Lotus Foods, introducing new and exotic rice experiences into the American dining room is just part of the equation. The other part is the company’s strong commitment to global sustainability. “We as a planet are going to have to make adjustments [to water consumption]—and rice is the biggest water hog on the planet,” Levine admits.

In order to take on the environmental challenges of the twenty-first century, Lotus Foods has committed itself to the revolutionary water-saving method of rice farming developed in Madagascar thirty-five years ago, known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).

All of Lotus Foods’ new partners use SRI, and the company is working with groups like Oxfam and WWF to help their long-standing partners make the switch. “It’s very difficult to change five thousand years of rice cultivation; but when they’re taught properly, the farmers we work with appreciate the benefits that the new methods bring.

“People and planet before profit,” Levine summarizes Lotus Foods’ philosophy, acknowledging that worldwide implementation of SRI is “an audacious goal for a small company—but imagine if every company offered to help.”

To find out more about Lotus Foods and their products, visit