Kiribat, in the south Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, is one of the world’s last remaining rice-growing nations.
The country is rich in biodiversity, but also suffers from endemic diseases and deforestation, making the land increasingly vulnerable to climate change.
Its edible oil, called “tirum,” is an alternative to traditional oil used in traditional cooking.
In a report, a team of researchers from the Kiribata Institute for Environmental Sciences and Technology, an independent research organisation, compared the oil with traditional and “unnatural” oils, including palm oil and vegetable oils.
The study found that the “tirus,” which is extracted from the edible rice, was higher in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients than palm oil.
In contrast, the oil used for cooking was not rich in vitamins or phytonuts, said Dr Gokulang Sihakorn, one of study co-authors and director of the institute.
“We are now starting to realise that the tirus we are using is not the best choice,” he said.
“If we are going to develop edible oils that are safe and effective for humans and that are suitable for the environment, we need to look for alternatives.”
The researchers also used a comparison between the edible oil and palm oil, noting that the palm oil was more than two times as expensive, and it contained higher levels of pesticide residues.
In addition, the researchers said that the rice-based oil was less nutritious than palm oils and contained more harmful contaminants.
The Kiribatis produce about 200 million tonnes of edible rice a year, mainly for food and beverages.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world needs to feed 7 billion people by 2050.
The rice industry is highly dependent on imported food.
It is estimated that about 80 per cent of the total annual production of edible and non-edible rice goes to feed the world.
The research team said that they had tested the edible oils for the presence of pesticides, and found that none contained any.
However, the team did not report on whether they had found any harmful pesticides in the edible tirsum.
The scientists noted that the oil’s high nutritional value would make it an ideal alternative to palm oil for the world at large, and they recommended that the Kiris apply for a licence to use edible tirum to export to countries that are developing edible rice.
“Tirum could potentially be used for many uses in the future,” Sihake said.