If you’ve ever balked at the price of fresh blueberries (especially when they’re out of season), but knew you needed a good source of antioxidants, then head over to the rice aisle, where you might just find a taste of forbidden fruit — or at least, rice. Black rice, that is. Centuries ago, emperors in ancient China forbade commoners from eating black rice because it was so good — they wanted to keep it all for themselves.
Black rice is popular in Asia in noodles, sushi, and pudding, and may be on its way to becoming more popular with Americans. In fact, according to new research by the American Chemical Society, a spoonful of back rice is better for you than the same amount of blueberries, because it has less sugar and more fiber and vitamin E antioxidants.
Black rice is one of the over 7,000 varieties of rice in the world and has a rich, nutty flavor. It is a deep purple color (think eggplant) and is rich in iron and has a soft texture. Black bran layers are not removed from the rice during processing, so the rice does not stick together when cooked.
But the best news is that it’s full of a particular mix of anthocyanin antioxidants that shows promise for neutralizing free radical damage to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, heart disease, and cancer.
Another potential benefit of black rice bran is that research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry shows oral feeding of a standard mouse diet supplemented with 10% black rice bran significantly suppressed chemically-induced inflammation of the skin. Why is this important to us? Because prolonged inflammation has been associated with the development of allergies, atherosclerosis, cancer, heart problems, and infectious diseases.
Another advantage of black rice is that it ranges in colors from pink to purples, all the way to black. This is important because initial research shows that it may be used to provide coloring for some of the thousands of products that now use artificial coloring, typically derived from petroleum and linked to behavior disorders, increased risk for cancer, growth and developmental delays, and even lead poisoning. The mild flavor and distinctive color of black rice might even attract the youngest diners in your household.
In the future, don’t be surprised if you start seeing black rice bran or bran extracts in cereals, oatmeal, and other products. Louisiana, California, and Arkansas rice farmers are adding black varieties to their fields, so start checking for it on your natural food store shelves, or order it online, and plan now to incorporate this “forbidden” powerhouse into your diet!