Black or Forbidden Rice: A Nutrition Star

Once only for emperors, now everyone can enjoy it

Forbidden Rice
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Black rice, also called forbidden rice or "emperor's rice," is gaining popularity for its high levels of antioxidants and superior nutritional value. Forbidden rice earned its name because it was once reserved for the Chinese emperor to ensure his health and longevity. Forbidden rice is a medium-grain, non-glutinous heirloom rice with a deep purple hue and a nutty, slightly sweet flavor. This whole-grain rice is rich in anthocyanins, which are antioxidant pigments that give the rice its unusual color.

Relative to other rice varieties, forbidden rice is high in protein and iron; according to Chinese medicine, it is considered a blood tonic.

Origin of Black (Forbidden) Rice

One crop of rice created in China about 10,000 years ago is the ancestor of hundreds of types of modern rice. Black rice, however, is unique. Its purplish black color is a result of its high concentration of anthocyanin. It is the same antioxidant responsible for the color of eggplant, blueberries, acaí berries, and concord grapes, as well as purple cauliflower, purple corn, and blood oranges. Most cultivated rice produces white grains, but the color of black rice is caused by a gene mutation. Japanese researchers found that a change in a gene that controls anthocyanin rearranged to create black rice. They found that the mutation occurred in a subspecies of rice. Since then, the rice has been replicated and transferred to other rice species through cross-breeding.

Cultivation of Black (Forbidden) Rice

Black rice is not as easy to grow as other rice varieties because it only yields about 10 percent of the harvest that other rice varieties do. That makes the rice very expensive, which is why it was initially reserved only for the richest of the rich—Chinese royalty at the time it was first discovered.

The grain is now cultivated in Southeast Asian countries—India, Indonesia, Thailand, and China. Owing to its popularity in Western countries, it is now also grown in small amounts in the Southern United States as well.

Black (Forbidden) Rice Nutritional Value

In comparison to other varieties, black rice has more fiber and protein than red, brown, or white rice. This, combined with its high level of anthocyanins, makes it a nutrition powerhouse. A half-cup serving of prepared black rice, made from about one-fourth cup of uncooked rice, contains:

  • 160 calories
  • 1.5 grams of fat
  • 34 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 5 grams of protein
  • 4 percent DRV iron

Where to Buy Black Rice

Black rice previously was only available in gourmet grocery stores and Asian specialty markets. But now, with its increased popularity, you can find it at Whole Foods, Target, and Walmart, as well as on online on Amazon and other retailers. Check to see if your neighborhood grocery store carries it. Black rice might be called forbidden rice or emperor's rice on restaurant menus.