Friday, March 28, 2008
The Paddy Milling Process
I spent most of today March 27th at my local paddy miller supervising the drying and milling of paddy to take about 6 varieties of rice back to my shop for sale as well as to my customers in Colombo.
I first had to dry my paddy in the cement area outside the mill. Normally this is not a required process as paddy brought from storage has already been dried, whereas my paddy has just come from being threshed.
Once adequately dry, I get the miller to check it by eating a grain of rice. Then it is left indoors for an hour to cool down, as milling hot paddy can affect the quality, as the rice can break.
The paddy is then put into a machine that separates the husk from the rice particle. The paddy goes through this process three times with the person on the machine putting the paddy back up into the drum to be cleaned. I understand this is done so that the husk is completely removed, as the first pass is not enough.
It is then put into the polishing machine, which is adjusted to determine the level of shine and whiteness. As my rice was red, further tightening the lever will clean more of the red, and make it whiter. If I want it dark red then it is polished much less. In the bygone days, people ate red rice as dark as possible, as it was very nutritious. Lately people prefer less red as that is what they have got used to, at the expense of nutrition. The extract from the polishing is called Rice Bran or Rice Polish and is just as valuable as rice, and the rice bran oil from pressing this powder is extensively used in cosmetics and commands a very high price.
The resulting polished rice is what we buy in the stores. So in summary 66% of the paddy is rice, 12% is rice polish and the balance is Paddy husk. All the customer gets is the rice, the miller keeps the polish and husk and sells it for more than he charges for milling the rice. Actually the miller in his elementary calculation, says he breaks even on the charge for milling and makes his profit on the sale of the bran and husk. The bran sells for Rs 30 a kilo primarily for animal feeds, but now increasingly for human food as it is mixed with kurakkan flour to make eats and cakes and local delicacies. Remember that the goodness is in the bran and we give it to the cows and chickens in preference to eating it.
Needless to say the processes are similar for the large millers, but they have additional machines to remove sand particles, to remove broken rice and expensive double polishers for perfect visuals. Depending on the sophistication of the miller, the processes are further automated. In fact the cost is far less for them as their unit costs of production is less due to large volumes and they have sophisticated distribution set ups to market the bran and one even uses the husk to run his generators to produce electricity to run the factory. He sells the excess electricity to the National Grid.
There is absolutely no question that in his billion rupee mill, the largest in the country, it does not cost him anything to mill as the by products, cover the production costs as well as amortization of the factory cost. Effectively being able to do the conversion for free, This gives him enormous clout in the market place to determine price, and also stifle the competition.
His main preoccupation therefore is to have enough paddy coming through his factory to keep the machines operational 24/7 so he has no down time as that will increase the unit cost.
I have not touched on the parboiling process, which is when the paddy is boiled and then milled. That process produces parboiled rice, which is also very popular here as many of the laborers like this rice, as it fills their stomachs due to the mass.
I do my parboiling at home or at a known farmer’s so it tastes slightly different as the equipment used is rudimentary and the taste accordingly is different with some preferring home parboiled rice.
Many small millers have gone out of business as their costs were not competitive, and the big millers also have bought out small millers and closed them down, so that they get access to the paddy in preference to anyone else. This race to keep the big mills operational all the time, is what has reduced the number of millers, as they pay cash on delivery and are very efficient in grading and transacting the purchase. They use local traders with vehicles as subagents to collect paddy on their behalf to deliver to their mills, in order to have a continuous supply.
In order to be unique I have to differentiate from the quality of the large miller by offering a new rice, area specific and in my case, a major selling point being newly milled rice, less than a few days from milling.