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Black rice is also known as forbidden rice or emperor’s rice. In ancient times the emperors retained this nutty rice for their own consumption prohibiting commoners from eating it. This rice consists of several varieties and has a long history of cultivation (1) in Southeast Asian countries such as India, Thailand, and China.

Types of black rice

In ancient days, many centuries ago, rice was cultivated as a crop which had two varieties – Asian and African. Then this was cultivated in many parts of the world and got divided into many varieties. Some popular ones were, white rice, brown rice, red/pink rice and yes, the black rice.

This black rice was highly cultivated in China and is considered as very exotic one. It was used only by royal’s, that is, the emperor of China – hence the name Emperor’s rice. It was cultivated and was a consumed as a delicacy only by the royal’s and was forbidden for common people. Hence the name forbidden rice. Even today, the rice is available in many parts of the world, but it is very expensive when compared to the commonly available rice varieties.

Why is this rice black in colour?

Now, everybody has a simple question once you get to know about black rice. Why is the rice black in color ?

The rice which is black in color contains plenty of anthocyanin (2), a powerful anti-oxidant which is rarely found in other foods. This anti-oxidant is also present in blueberries, purple grapes, purple cauliflower and bloody orange. This anti-oxidant rich food is not easy to grow or cultivate like other rice varieties. The yield is said to as low as 10% when compared to other rice varieties.

Black rice is actually dark black in color but once cooked it becomes deep purple in color. It is also sticky once cooked, because of the amylopectin (3) present in it. As it is very expensive and it is used for garnishing in different types of foods. It is also consumed as a main meal in certain places.

Nutrition facts

Black rice contains nutritional values that are similar to brown rice. It contains fiber, carbohydrates, fat, protein and high amount of anti-oxidants. These anti-oxidants are not available in any other rice varieties. Black rice also contains good amounts of iron that is 3.5% of recommended daily value. This rice type, when cooked, contains less number of calories, when compared to other rice varieties.

Since it also contains high amount of fiber, it is comparatively the best rice variety for people who need more dietary fiber in their food intake. It also contains flavonoids (4), vitamin B, vitamin E, iron, thiamine, anthocyanin, magnesium, niacin, and phosphorous.

Black rice gives impressive health benefits when compared to other rice varieties.

Black rice health benefits


Black rice appears similar to blue berries, raspberries (5), and cranberries deep purple or black in color. The deep color shows its high anti-oxidant properties. Black rice bran hull (Outermost layer) contains the maximum level of anthocyanin (anti-oxidant).

A study presented in 2010 at the American Chemical Society, reports that one spoonful of black rice bran (equivalent to 10 spoonfuls of cooked black rice) contains the same amount of anthocyanin as a spoonful of fresh blueberries”.

When compared with blueberries, black rice bran is low in sugar and high in fibre, vitamin E and anti-oxidants. Truly black rice is a good alternative to blueberries with regard to anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are highly essential to eliminate free radicals in the body. They also protect the body from further intrusion by free radicals. It also helps you stay healthy and young, when consumed regularly.

Benefits of black rice

Fights Inflammation

Inflammation is basically a human body’s reaction to the existence of harmful viruses, bacteria and pathogens. Human body has the ability to heal diseases on its own. But, if sometimes the inflammation is so severe or chronic then it won’t be able to cure on its own. Black rice bran contains anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties in it. These two ingredients act like therapeutic agents in healing chronic inflammation (6). These play a pivotal role in preventing diseases. When the cooked rice is consumed, it is found that the inflammation is reduced and treated naturally. When consumed on a regular basis, it prevents inflammation.

Fights cancer

Black rice contains high levels of anthocyanin. This antioxidant is water soluble in nature. This means it can reach all internal parts of the body when compared to fat soluble antioxidants. Anthocyanin antioxidant protects our cells from damages that cause cancer (7). It also prevents growth of tumor and multiplication of cells, when consumed regularly.

Heart health

The bran of black rice contains superior concentration of gamma oryzanol antioxidants. This helps lower LDL bad cholesterol and triglycerides concentration from blood. It protects human from heart diseases. Heart problems have become very common in modern days which means consumption of medicinal foods like black rice is very important. It also reduces plaque formations (8)in the arteries and enhances the blood circulation effectively. When the arteries are clear for the blood to flow, it prevents cardiac arrests and strokes too.

Reduce weight

Black rice is rich in fibre and low in calories. This fibre content keeps you free from hunger for a longer time and prevents you from over eating. It is found that regular consumption of black rice helps to reduce cravings for sugar and junk foods. Black rice also takes time to get digested because of its fibre content which means that the food stays in the stomach for a longer time and helps to cut hunger pangs. This rice can be cooked along with vegetables or chicken stock for more nutrition.

Helps to prevent diabetes

Dark color foods are healthier in nature. Obese people can include black rice in their diet, which helps them recude calorie intake (9). Black rice is the only variety which contains more nutrients than other rice varieties, also more fibre, and higher level of antioxidants. The fibre, nutrients and antioxidants all these help to slow down the absorption of sugar in the blood stream. This particular property prevents spikes in blood sugar level. It is better to consume whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates. Black rice can be included in your regular diet and also can be replaced instead of white or brown rice.

Liver health

Liver is one of the biggest organs in human body responsible for converting all nutrients into materials that our body can utilize. Fatty liver is one of the diseases that obese or alcoholic people face. This disease can be cured and prevented by black rice. Black rice consumption increases the blood lipid levels which in turn lowers the cholesterol level and triglycerides (10). The anthocyanin antioxidant cures liver damage due to alcoholism. The anti-oxidant also helps to flush out harmful toxins from the body.

black rice

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Improve digestive system

Black rice is actually sticky in nature. The stickiness helps to slow down the digestion process and lower insulin levels. Black rice is unrefined which means the outer layer (bran) stays intact when eaten. The bran holds more fibre which helps the food to pass through your digestive system smoothly and more quickly. The fibre content of bran helps to prevent constipation (11), stomach cramps, piles, bloating and unwanted digestion problems. In short, this rice variety can help you have smooth bowel movements and help you eliminate the waste from your body completely.

Flushes Toxins

Black rice is one of the effective foods, that helps to boost kidney health. It flushes out all toxins form the internal system and improves the function of the kidneys (12).

Side effects

So far, there is not much evidence available that shows any real drawback of black rice. It has lot of nutrition and seems to be scoring points in all sections. Some do say that the power of anti-oxidants is overstated. But then, that is a different debate altogether. With growing research in various fields and new things coming to light each day, the statement may turn out to be true. But for now, black rice is an excellent choice for your diet.

How to identify and purchase?

this rice is easy to identify as it is purplish black in color. Since the cultivation is less when compared to other rice varieties, you might not find it in every shop you visit. It must be available in Asian stores and big super markets. Make sure you purchase it only if it is a whole grain, as there are many duplicates available in the market.

How to cook Black rice?

Just like any other rice, it can be cooked when boiled in water. It can also be cooked in a pressure cooker. The sticky nature makes it very greasy, so you need to add a spoon of ghee or oil along with water. This will make the rice less sticky and it does not stick to each other.

Black rice has the outer coating and it is usually unrefined. So, it takes longer time to get cooked when compared to other form of rice varieties. If you plan to cook this rice, you need to plan ahead and soak it in warm water for at least an hour. The cooking time of the rice will be reduced proportional to the higher duration of soaking done.

There are many recipes available online on how to cook black rice and how to include it in your regular routine. Some say, this rice can be soaked overnight and many say just an hour of soaking in water is enough. But go find your style and enjoy the black rice. When you eat this rice regularly, like the name says, you might feel as healthy as an Emperor!

Kalaivani Selvaraj, MBA, got her Master’s degree in Human Resources. Due to her interest in natural healing, she pursued studies in the field of alternative medicine and is certified in Aromatherapy by Isla Verde Spa Training Academy. Ms. Kalaivani Selvaraj is also certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.