Interview with Widi {Functional Rice Expert}

Ever since I began my blog, I told Widi I wanted to interview her. At last we did it.

Widi, who is from Indonesia, moved to the area where my parents live a few years ago to begin a PhD. As there are hardly any Indonesian people there, she quickly adopted my mum as her aunty. Therefore Widi is like my adopted little cousin.

Widi is uber sweet and incredibly brainy. The reason for the interview is that Widi is a food technologist and the PhD she is doing is on rice.

Why did you decide to be a food technologist?

There are so many people in the world and we all need food to live. I believe there are so many options in the study of functional food to help us stay healthy and improve our lives.

What is functional food?

Functional food is food that has more natural benefits than regular food. It is food that is similar in appearance to conventional food and consumed as part of a normal diet with demonstrated physiological benefits or reducing the risk of cronic disease beyond basic nutritional function.

Does this mean it is organic or transgenic (or any other label)?

It has nothing to do with being organic, transgenic, or whatever. For example with rice, the difference would be that after the harvesting, rice undergoes a series of processes such as milling and polishing where depending on the different techniques used, they can loose some of their compounds. Thus they loose plenty of nutritional value and benefits.

The food that has been processed in a way that it retains as many of its natural benefits as possible is what is calledย functional food.

What is the exact subject of your PdD?

The field is analytical chemistry in the research of functional food based of rice. I look for bioactive compounds in rice and its extra nutritional value to develop functional products for South East Asia.

Apart from the usual nutritional aspects such as vitamins, I analyze the levels of melatonin, serotonin, phenolic acid, flavonoids, anthocyanins and tryptophan. Until now the main object of my research is on the amount of melatonin found in rice.

I look for the bioactive compounds in different types of rice and after each step of the processes from farm to fork.

How do you hope the findings of your investigations can be applied to everyday life?

Melatonin is a neurohormone that regulates other hormones to regulate our body’s biorhythm. Nowadays people take melatonin to sleep, for stress, jet lag and adjust the body for shift work. It would be better if people consume functional food instead of taking melatonin as a drug.

Can you explain some of your findings?

Different types of rice have different melatonin levels. The highest is in wild rice from North America. The one with least amount is Basmati rice. The different ways the rice is processed also affects their levels of melatonin.

I am possibly in the middle of some other very interesting findings but I cannot come to any conclusion about them yet.

Who is your idol in science?

Albert Lehninger. He is a biochemist who made very important discoveries in metabolism on a molecular level.

Do you like to cook?

I love cooking but at the moment I don’t have time to, so I go to visit my aunty when I want to eat well. Daily, I miss her refrigerator.

When I do cook, my speciality are wontons.

What is your favourite food?

Rice. I love rice. Also: bakso, lemper, empek empek. These are all Indonesian food. In Spain I discovered the seafood navajas which I love.

 Types of rice


  • The photo was taken a few years ago and provided to me by Widi.
  • The diagram of the different types of rice was provided to me by Widi.
  • I’m also a bit of a fan of Lehninger as I studied with his books too.
  • I’ve edited the interview slightly because it was conducted half in Indonesian.

A big thank you from Widi for reading!

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  1. Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward 2013-12-26 at 02:54

    Sofia, What is your favorite rice – it’s preparaiton – and why? Love this interview. Best – Shanna xx

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:00

      Widi is great! My favourite rice preparation I think must be an Indonesian dish my mum makes called Lemper which is glutinous rice wrapped around different fillings. I’ve never made it myself, though I should make it a New Years resolution to do it once and for all! xx

      1. Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward 2013-12-30 at 01:51

        Sofia – I look forward to learning about this recipe. Take good care! – Shanna xx

        1. Sofia 2013-12-31 at 00:20

          I am too… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:44

      And which is yours?

      1. Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward 2013-12-30 at 01:54

        Please do not make me choose a rice variety or a preparation, Sofia. That is just unfair! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Besos, Shanna

        1. Sofia 2013-12-31 at 00:21

          Hahaha ok I won’t! Maybe you can pick only your top 5 for example?

          1. Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward 2013-12-31 at 21:57

            Haha. I love saffron-scented, crispy Tah Dig rice prepared in the Persian style; Japanese short-grain brown rice traditionally prepared; and sticky white rice with sushi or in Chinese recipes. ๐Ÿ™‚ You?

  2. Pemberley Cup & Cakes by Rosa 2013-12-26 at 10:21

    Great post, Sofia! I think it is and awesome idea to interview someone you love and admire and, on top of that, you share all that interesting info with all of us ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:01

      Yes Rosa, I had wanted to do it since I started. I finally had enough time to this Christmas when I went down to my parents place and she spent Christmas with us too ๐Ÿ™‚ Besos

  3. gotastรฉ 2013-12-26 at 14:17

    Sofia, this is such a wonderful post. I’ve learnt so much from it. Thank you for sharing and Merry Christmas!!!…..danny

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:03

      Hi Danny! Thanks for coming by again its nice to hear from you ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks, I’ve wanted to make this post since for ever! Hope you had a Merry Christmas

  4. Sunny 2013-12-26 at 15:30

    Oh wow, this is so interesting! I don’t think most people know there is so much science involved in rice (or maybe it’s just me?)! Nowadays I can’t really be picky with rice. I kind of go to the supermarket and pick up a box of basmati or Thai rice. Back home my mom always mixes a lot of other grains in the rice we eat ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:05

      It makes me think of all the science behind many foods and how many industrial processes most probably mess all the nutritional value up. Hopefully there will be more food technologists now trying to find ways to ensure food gets to us as natural as possible.
      Really your mum does that? My mum, who is the Indonesian, makes rice in a very Indonesian style which is nothing like how Spaniards like it (and vice versa). I bet both ways end up with different properties after cooking!

      1. Sunny 2013-12-29 at 10:21

        Oh yeah my mom is a bit of a health nut. There is minimal grease and not so much meat in her diet, which I know is controversial. Most Belgians would tell you lean protein is SO GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH. I think it has a lot to do with the climate though. Here in Belgium I definitely feel the need for more protein, but when I’m back in Taiwan I’m fine with much less. So yeah, there are a lot of grains mixed in with the rice. I have to admit when I was still living at home, I sometimes missed the texture of white rice because my mom refuses to make ANY. Now that I am only home for about 2 weeks each year, it’s all fine by me :p

  5. dedy oktavianus pardede 2013-12-26 at 16:04

    Lovin rice all the way, actually this kind of rice (esp the black, wild and brown rice) is considered as a ‘poor man’ food long time ago,
    nowdays, since it healtier, contains more fiber and nutritional, the stock islimited and not available all the time due to the short period of storing made it’s price rising up and considered as a fancy ‘gourmet’ ingredients…….
    Merry christmas and happy holidays, God blessed you all the way!
    ps: i love bakso and pempek too…..

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:07

      Its funny how these things turn out, how many foods are “poor mans food” in one period or in a country, and its considered as really good in another place and time.
      I also loe bakso and empek empek, especially empek empek ๐Ÿ™‚ God bless you too and have a great end of year!

      1. dedy oktavianus pardede 2013-12-29 at 16:41

        I guess soo, i guess it’s price rising up simply because healty diet store is mushrooms and become trend too here in Indonesia, Sophie!

        1. Sofia 2013-12-29 at 18:14

          Some mushrooms are very expensive here!

  6. apartmentwife 2013-12-26 at 17:04

    widi- you’re quite the inspiration. it’s wonderful how you use your intelligence and interests (cooking and food) to find ways of helping people (and nations) prosper with nutritional information (great example about ingesting melatonin through rice rather than drugs).

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:08

      Oh she is isn’t she!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Guillermina Bรณsquez Stover 2013-12-26 at 20:16

    Widi (as Sofia) is a beautiful young woman, wish I could meet her! I am grateful for Sofia’s post because it just proves the adage, “the more and more I go, the less and less I know”!

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:09

      She is solo adorable in real life, anreven more “mad scientist” than me ๐Ÿ˜‰ xx
      Sorry I believe the more you do, the wiser you are, surely. (Though I always think the same of what you say about myself, the more I go the less I know…)

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:10

      And now you know it has hidden properties that are good for you!

  8. aryo 2013-12-27 at 12:17

    I admire her…

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:10

      Me too ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. pianolearner 2013-12-27 at 13:05

    Really interesting interview. The world is full of fascinating people. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Sofia 2013-12-28 at 23:12

      Very fascinating, as I didn’t even know the concept of functional food before knowing her… But I’m so happy I do know, it ties in so well Smith all my pharmaceutical stuff ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. eleieleika 2013-12-27 at 13:59

    Good interview! I am so blessed with wonderful daughter, adopted niece, fantastic Kitty and many more. I remember over a years ago when preparing food in my kitchen, Sofia’s fingers were pounding the piano keys, and next to her at the dining table, Widi’s fingers were busy classifying many kinds of rice. So proud of them.
    Happy New Year to All ….. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Laura Lynn 2013-12-29 at 05:13

    Wonderful post. I like my rice hot with butter and honey. Or cooked with milk. Or steamed. I don’t think I’ve met a rice I don’t like!

    1. Sofia 2013-12-31 at 14:37

      Is that like rice pudding then? ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Laura Lynn 2013-12-31 at 18:56

        Yes, rice pudding is my FAV dessert but if I have no time? Just milk and honey on hot rice will do. Hope you have lots of fun and love in the New Year!

  12. Dalo 2013 2014-01-06 at 05:28

    What a great interview. I am not a rice lover, but every time wild rice is put in front of me, I cannot get enough. Rice is such a staple for people around the world, this is really interesting work that Widi is doing. Great read ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Sofia 2014-01-06 at 18:45

      It is really interesting. And its good to know that there’s lots of other crazy scientists like her looking into the matters of functional food to ensure ingredients get to us in the best state possible for our health. ๐Ÿ™‚


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