Move over brown rice, it’s time for black rice to take center stage. Also known as forbidden rice and purple rice, black rice has become popular amongst the health enthusiasts, thanks to high nutritional content and numerous health benefits.

Once reserved only for the Chinese royalty, this ancient variety of rice is now available at most health food stores.

Read on to know all there is to know about this trendy grain.

What is black rice?

Black rice belongs to the Oryza sativa L species of rice. There are different varieties of black rice including Indonesian black rice, Philippine balatinaw rice, Thai jasmine black rice and Chak-hao.

This whole grain rice contains anthocyanins, which provide this rice its unique black color.

The grains of this rice are black when they are raw, but they turn iridescent purple when they are cooked.

This type of rice is un-milled, and it has its husk intact. This medium grain rice is non-glutinous and has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor.

The black rice yields only 10 percent of the rice as compared to the other varieties. This low yield makes the rice very expensive, which is also one of the reasons why it was originally reserved only for royalty.

Though initially grown in China, India, Indonesia, and Thailand, it is now grown in the US as well. It was first introduced in the US in the 1990s.

Origins of black rice

According to a legend, black rice was once reserved for only Chinese emperors. Thousands of years ago, the Chinese noblemen took possession of all black rice and forbade anyone who did not belong to royalty from eating it.

During those times black rice was only grown in limited quantities, and only the noblemen were permitted to eat it.

This practice gave this rice the name forbidden rice. According to Japanese researchers, the color of black rice was caused by gene mutation.

According to the researchers, a rearrangement in the gene called Kala4 activated the production of anthocyanins.

They concluded that the rearrangement must have occurred in the tropical japonica species of rice and later this black rice trait was transferred to other varieties of rice through cross-breeding (1).

Black rice infographic -1

Nutritional value of black rice

Black rice is a highly nutritious grain. Its hull has the highest amount of anthocyanins as compared to any other food.

A half-cup serving of cooked black rice contains –

  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 1.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 34 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Iron: 4% DV

Health benefits of black rice

1. Rich in antioxidants

Black rice is a rich source of anthocyanin antioxidants, which are known to fight cancer and prevent heart ailments.

The bran hull of black rice contains more anthocyanins than any other food including brown rice and red quinoa.

The dark color of this rice is an indication of its high antioxidant content, as is the case with antioxidant-rich berries like blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries.

Black rice also contains antioxidant vitamin E, which helps keep eyes and skin healthy and also helps boost the immune system.

2. Improves heart health

Black rice is rich in fiber, which helps in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. According to a 2001 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, black rice decreases atherosclerotic plaque formation and increases antioxidant status in rabbits.

When the plaque builds up in the arteries, it causes them to harden and become blocked, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks (2).

Black rice is also one of the most abundant sources of anthocyanins. These antioxidants can protect the heart muscles and blood vessels from oxidative damage.

They also help rejuvenate the cardiovascular system and repair the damaged tissue (3).

3. Detoxifies the body

Forbidden black rice is a rich and natural detoxifying agent for the body. The phytonutrients in black rice help remove harmful toxins from the liver.

Black rice helps in treating fatty liver disease, which leads to excessive fat deposits in the liver.

According to a 2012 study, black rice extract supplemented diet helps reduce the risk of hepatic steatosis and related disorders (4).

The researchers concluded that black rice might help in preventing fatty liver disease.

4. Improves digestion

Black rice has higher fiber content as compared to white rice. The fiber helps regulate bowel movements, prevents constipation and also diarrhea and bloating.

The American diet is generally low in fiber content. Eating black rice is an excellent way to in add fiber to your diet.

Fiber is also needed by the body to clear the toxins and reduce inflammation. Increased fiber intake is helpful in treating many gastrointestinal disorders like gastroesophageal reflux disease, duodenal ulcer, diverticulitis, constipation, and hemorrhoids (5).

5. Gluten free

Black rice is gluten-free and easy to digest. So it is a healthy option for those who have a gluten allergy or celiac disease.

Gluten sensitivity can lead to bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nutrient deficiencies and an increased risk of developing the leaky gut syndrome.

Since this grain is also rich in fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins, and anthocyanins, it is also a healthy replacement for other, other grains.

6. Protects against cancer

Forbidden rice is rich in anthocyanins, which help prevent free radical damage that can lead to cancer.

According to a 2006 study published in Chemical-Biological Interactions, black rice anthocyanins inhibit cancer cell invasion (6).

The antioxidant properties of anthocyanins have anti-metastatic effects. Another, more recent study showed that black rice anthocyanins possess anti-metastatic properties against human breast cancer cells (7).

Black rice benefits infographic

7. Prevents diabetes

Black rice is a rich source of dietary fiber and antioxidants because, in black rice, the bran of grain is intact.

Dietary fiber plays a vital role in slowing down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream, which helps in lowering the risk of diabetes.

In 2010, researchers compared brown rice to white rice concerning type 2 diabetes risk.

The researchers concluded that substituting whole grains, including brown rice, for white rice may lower risk of diabetes (8).

This shows that carbohydrate intake in the form of whole grains like black and brown rice is better in preventing diabetes.

8. Weight management

Black rice is low in calories and high in fiber content, which makes it the perfect food for weight loss. The dietary fiber in black rice helps you feel fuller for longer after meals, which helps in weight loss.

According to a study from Hanyang University, Korea, meal replacement with mixed rice is more effective than white rice in weight control, while improving antioxidant enzyme activity in obese women (9).

9. Boosts brain function

Several studies have linked oxidative stress to cognitive decline and memory impairment. Antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, have a beneficial impact on cognitive outcomes.

According to a research of seven different studies, food-based anthocyanins consumption leads to improvement in many cognitive outcomes like verbal learning and memory (10).

During an animal-based study, when female Wistar rats were treated with anthocyanins for 15 days, it improved their learning and memory function (11).

Black rice is one of the richest sources of anthocyanins, so it offers all the benefits of anthocyanins.

10. Improve eye health

Anthocyanins present in black rice are also helpful in improving eyesight. According to a 2013 study from China, black rice anthocyanidins improve retinal damage caused by phytochemical stress in rats (12). Black rice also contains vitamin E, which is excellent for eye health.

Black rice vs. other rice

Different types of rice differ in their nutrient content. From the nutrient standpoint, both brown and black rice is superior to white rice. Black rice has higher fiber content, but red rice is richer in iron than black rice.

  • Polished white rice (100 grams) contains: 6.8 grams proteins, 1.2 grams iron and .6 grams fiber
  • Brown rice (100 grams) contains: 7.9 grams proteins, 2.2 grams iron, and 2.8 grams fiber
  • Red rice (100 grams) contains: 7 grams proteins, 5.5 grams iron and 2 grams fiber
  • Black rice (100 grams) contains: 8.5 grams proteins, 3.5 grams iron and 4.9 grams fiber

Both black rice and brown rice contain trace amounts of arsenic, which is absorbed from the soil.

Rinsing this rice in water and cooking it in 8 to 10 part of water per one part of rice can reduce the arsenic levels in this rice.

Where to buy black rice?

You can find black rice in health food stores, gourmet grocery stores and even online. Asian supermarkets also keep black rice in stock.

Check the packet of the rice to ensure that you are getting 100 percent whole grain black rice.

How to cook black rice?

  1. Black rice takes longer to cook than white rice. It would help if you soaked it for a few hours before cooking to lessen its cooking time.
  2. After soaking it for a few hours, you can rinse the rice and prepare it for cooking. Add 2 to 3 cups of water to one cup of rice and bring it to a boil.
  3. After that let the rice simmer till all the liquid is completely absorbed. You can also cook this rice like pasta.
  4. To one cup of rice, add at least 8 to 10 cups of water and boil. Drain out the excess water when the rice is thoroughly cooked.
  5. Black rice can also be cooked in chicken stock, vegetable broth and coconut water.

Final thoughts

Black or forbidden rice, a variety of rice that was once reserved only for the nobility, is fast gaining popularity amongst the health enthusiasts.

Its rich nutritional content provides a range of health benefits including improved heart health, better digestion, cancer prevention, and weight loss.

So, add this rice with its unique nutty flavor to your diet and enjoy its benefits.

Black or forbidden rice belongs to the Oryza sativa L species of rice. This rice contains anthocyanins, which provide its unique black color.