You may have seen black rice, sometimes described with luxurious-sounding names like “forbidden rice” or “emperor’s rice,” on restaurant menus and at specialty grocery stores. Black rice has been eaten in regions of Asia for thousands of years; in fact for centuries it was reserved for only Chinese royalty.
Cultivated rice (as opposed to wild rice), all originates, according to genetic research, from a single crop in China somewhere around 10,000 years ago. From that one batch, the two species of rice (one generally referred to as Asian rice, the other as African rice) spun out into hundreds of different cultivars. These differ in plenty of ways; some are long grain, some short; some have high levels of amylopectin, which makes them very sticky when cooked (these types are called glutinous rice); some are pink or red or brown or, yes, black. (The difference between brown and white rice is due to processing, not to varietal.)
Black rice is a particularly odd duck; its deep, dark color, which is something like a purplish black, is a rarity in the food world. Black rice comes in a few different forms; often it’s a glutinous variety, but there are black jasmine rice varieties as well. That dark color is due to an excess of anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that’s the culprit for most darkly colored plants. Dark purple eggplant? Anthocyanin. Same with blueberries, açaí berries, and concord grapes, along with the colored versions of normally paler plants like purple cauliflower, purple corn, and blood oranges.
Today this type of rice is picking up in popularity and popping up in more health food stores across the US, Australia, and Europe, as people discover the numerous health benefits that whole grain black rice has to offer. Despite being less popular than brown rice or wild rice, black rice is an ancient grain that has even more impressive health benefits than most other closely related rice varieties.
Not only is it the type of rice that is richest in powerful disease-fighting antioxidants, but it also contains dietary fiber, anti-inflammatory properties, and has the ability to help stop the development of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and even weight gain.