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How Did Ben’s Original, Formerly Uncle Ben’s, Transform Rice Consumption?

Margaret Lipman
By
Published May 23, 2024
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Ben’s Original, the iconic brand of parboiled rice formerly known as Uncle Ben's, boasts a fascinating history that revolutionized rice consumption in the U.S. and parts of Europe. Still a popular brand, Ben's Original is a product of Mars Inc. and was the top-selling rice in the U.S. for many decades.

The company’s origins can be traced back to the 1930s, when German-British chemist Erich Huzenlaub began investigating how to process white rice while retaining its nutritional value and speeding up cooking. This patented method of parboiling rice would become known as the Huzenlaub process. It involves using vacuum pressure to draw air from a whole grain of raw rice, then steaming it, followed by vacuum drying and husking. The rice conversion process effectively reinserts nutrients back into the rice, increasing its nutritional value compared to traditional milling methods while reducing cooking time and extending the product’s shelf life.

Initially, Huzenlaub planned to establish mills in India, but the onset of World War II interrupted these plans. Instead, he worked with Houston food broker Gordon Harwell to establish Converted Rice, Inc., turning his attention to the massive U.S. consumer market, for which rice was a largely unfamiliar commodity. After renting warehouse space and procuring a boiler and pressure tank from a junkyard, Converted Rice, Inc. began producing parboiled rice that became a dietary staple for U.S. servicemen and was considered a major wartime breakthrough. The rice was even air-dropped to British and American troops, as it was safe from weevil infestation.

In 1932, Forrest Mars, the son of candy manufacturer Frank C. Mars, recognized the product’s potential and invested heavily in Converted Rice, Inc., hoping to diversify his own business interests. By the end of 1944, the company had expanded to two rice mills and was processing around 200 tons daily. The product’s wartime usefulness ensured that rice growers were supported by postwar government price controls, and the American public had already come to love convenience foods. By 1952, under the Uncle Ben’s name, the company had become the best-selling rice brand in the U.S. and had expanded to Europe, paving the way for continued growth and success.

From military rations to pantry essential:

  • *Ben’s Original was formerly named “Uncle Ben’s,” taking its name from a mythologized African-American farmer from Texas known for growing excellent rice. However, it’s not clear whether this Uncle Ben really existed. The portrait used on the packaging was actually Frank Brown, the maitre d’ of a restaurant in Chicago.

  • *In 2020, Mars, Inc. rebranded Uncle Ben’s as Ben’s Original. The change came in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests. Uncle Ben’s was just one of numerous food brands criticized for using stereotypical and often subservient images of African Americans as a marketing strategy.

  • *According to the U.S. Rice Producers Association, people in Asia consume up to 300 pounds of rice annually, while in the United Arab Emirates, the figure reaches 450 pounds per year. Though the American rice industry has come a long way since the 1930s, Americans only consume a relatively modest 26 pounds of rice annually.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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