According to ancient Chinese legend, black rice was so rare, tasty, and nutritious that only the emperors were allowed to eat it.
Times have changed. Although black rice is still relatively rare, researchers are trying to bring its distinctive flavor and mix of antioxidants to the masses—or at least to a grocery store near you.
If you’ve never heard of black rice, much less seen it, the dark-hued grain is now available at supermarkets such as Whole Foods and appears to be gaining a foothold in kitchens and restaurants in the U.S.
Like brown rice, black rice is full of antioxidant-rich bran, which is found in the outer layer that gets removed during the milling process to make white rice. But only black-rice bran contains the antioxidants known as anthocyanins, purple and reddish pigments—also found in blueberries, grapes, and acai—that have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease and cancer, improvements in memory, and other health benefits.
One spoonful of black-rice bran—or 10 spoonfuls of cooked black rice—contains the same amount of anthocyanin as a spoonful of fresh blueberries, according to a new study presented today at the American Chemical Society, in Boston.
“I think the black-rice bran has an advantage over blueberries, because blueberries still contain a high level of sugar,” says the lead researcher, Zhimin Xu, PhD, an associate professor at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, in Baton Rouge.
Black rice isn’t currently grown on a commercial scale in the U.S., but Xu hopes that his research will spur farmers in the Southeast to start growing it.
The combination of antioxidants found in black rice packs a one-two punch that could make it a particularly good food for your health.
Some antioxidants in black (and brown) rice are fat-soluble, while anthocyanins are water-soluble and can therefore reach different areas of the body, says Joe Vinson, PhD, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania.
Courtesy of Carina Storrs for Health.com, photo courtesy of Delicious Coma