What is black rice? Despite being less popular than brown rice or wild rice, black rice, also known as “forbidden rice” or “emperor’s rice,” is an ancient grain that has even more impressive health benefits than many other 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.
Black rice has been eaten in regions of Asia for thousands of years. In fact, for centuries it was reserved for only Chinese royalty.
Today this type of rice is picking up in popularity and popping up in more health food stores across the U.S., Australia and Europe, as people discover the numerous health benefits that this whole grain rice has to offer.
What Is Black Rice? (Aka, Forbidden Rice)
“Forbidden rice” is another name for black rice, which is a medium-grain, non-glutinous heirloom rice. It has a dark purplish-black color with a nutty, slightly sweet flavor. Is black rice really rice? As odd as it may look if you’ve never seen it before, it is certainly a type of rice.
Forbidden rice includes a range of rice types that all belong to the species Oryza sativa, some of which are glutinous rice. Thai black rice, for example — also called black sticky rice or black glutinous rice — has a sticky texture and is often used in desserts in Thai cuisine.
Glutinous or sticky rices have higher amounts of amylopectin, which makes them very sticky when cooked. Black Japonica rice is a mix of Asian black short-grain rice and a medium-grain mahogany rice grown together in the same field.
Is black rice a superfood? It is often considered a superfood because of its high nutritional content, in addition to the fact that it’s naturally high in anthocyanins, which are the antioxidant pigments that give the rice its unique coloring. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s even considered a blood tonic.
Can you eat black rice on keto? Unfortunately, rices of all kinds are typically a “no” on the ketogenic diet. The good news? Black forbidden rice is an option for those following a gluten-free diet.
Black Rice Nutrition
Black rice calories are not very high. One serving of black or forbidden rice contains only around 160 calories but offers a very high amount of flavonoid phytonutrients. It’s also a good source of important fiber, substantial mineral content and even a good source of plant-based protein. In addition, just the outside hull of the grain has one of the highest levels of anthocyanin antioxidants of any food.
How healthy is black rice? A 1/4 cup serving of steamed organic black rice contains approximately :
- 156 calories
- 32 grams carbohydrates
- 4 grams protein
- 1.5 grams fat
- 2.3 grams fiber
- 0.7 milligram iron (4 percent DV)
7 Top Health Benefits
1. Full of Antioxidants
Is black rice a good carb? It’s certainly a more nutritious source of carbohydrates. The bran hull of black rice, which is the outermost layer of the rice grain, contains one of the highest levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin found in any known food.
Black rice has a deep black purplish color, which is an indication of its high antioxidant properties, similarly to how deeply-colored antioxidant berries like blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries appear. Sources show that the anthocyanin content of black rice is higher than any other grain, including brown rice, red rice, red quinoa or other colored whole grain varieties. It even has more anthocyanins than blueberries.
Anthocyanin has the ability to help prevent a myriad of common but serious illnesses, according to numerous studies that have looked at the benefits of this antioxidant.
Scientific research correlates anthocyanin antioxidants with: helping prevent cardiovascular disease, protecting against cancer that can be caused by free radical damage, improving brain function, reducing inflammation and more.
Additionally, it also contains the important antioxidant, vitamin E, which is useful in maintaining eye, skin, and immune health in addition to other important functions.
2. Protects Heart Health
Research studies have shown that black rice decreases dangerous atherosclerotic plaque formation in the arteries. This is very important for keeping arteries clear and preventing heart attacks and stroke.
Epidemiological studies also demonstrate that anthocyanins consumed in the diet have a preventative effect on the development of cardiovascular disease. The anthocyanins in black rice can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels by reducing total cholesterol, as well as LDL “bad” cholesterol.
3. Can Help Detoxify the Body
Studies have demonstrated that consuming black rice can help detox the body and cleanse the liver of harmful toxic buildup thanks to the rice’s high antioxidant content. In a recent animal study, the antioxidant statuses of blood, the liver and one of the main arteries, the aorta, were evaluated in rabbits that were either fed refined white rice or black rice.
Results showed that the rabbits fed black rice experienced less oxidative stress (also called free radical damage), contained more antioxidants in their blood, experienced detoxification in the liver and also had reduced plaque buildup in the arteries.
The phytonutrients found in black rice help the body reduce inflammation and cleanse the body of harmful substances that can contribute to a wide range of conditions.
4. Improves Digestive and Metabolic Health
Black rice contains an impressive amount of fiber per serving. The fiber in black rice helps prevent constipation, bloating and other unwanted digestive symptoms. Fiber binds to waste and toxins within the digestive tract, helping pull them out and contribute to regular bowel function. Black rice can also help prevent or improve cases of diarrhea, since fiber adds bulk to your stool.
The dietary fiber found in black rice can also importantly help you feel full after eating and stay satisfied for a longer period of time between meals, potentially aiding in weight loss. Clinical research published in 2014 demonstrates how a diet high in dietary fiber from whole grain rice varieties has positive effects on metabolic parameters, including insulin resistance, which affect weight.
5. Naturally Gluten-Free Grain
Like other rice varieties, black rice is naturally gluten-free grain. Many people today are sensitive to gluten, whether they are aware of it or not, but still test negative for Celiac disease.
After eating something with gluten in it, those with a gluten sensitivity suffer many of the same symptoms as those with Celiac disease (a confirmed allergy to gluten), including bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nutrient deficiencies and an increased risk for developing leaky gut syndrome.
Consuming forbidden rice in place of not only refined grains and processed flour products, but also all wheat, barley and rye-containing foods, can help to eliminate digestive problems associated with eating gluten for many people.
6. Helps Slow Down Absorption of Sugar in the Blood
Studies have shown that when it comes to the risk of developing diabetes and even obesity, consuming whole grains is much more beneficial and preventative than consuming refined carbohydrates.
Compared to eating processed carbohydrates that are stripped of their fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients that help slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream, black rice is a much healthier option. Black rice contains the entire bran of the grain where the fiber is stored, and fiber is able to help glucose (sugar) from the grain to be absorbed by the body over a longer period of time.
When researchers examined white and brown rice consumption in relation to type 2 diabetes risk, they found that white rice was more likely to contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes risk.
The substitution of whole grains, including brown or black rice, in place of white rice, white bread, pasta and sweetened cereals may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and other complications, in addition to keeping your weight in check and your energy levels balanced.
7. Better at Preventing Obesity than Refined Grains
It is very important for those with prediabetes, diabetes, or other forms of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance to consume 100 percent whole grains, as opposed to processed “white” types that lack fiber.
The same can be said for those who struggle with losing weight, since the fiber and nutrients in whole grain rice help shut off hunger signals and prevent overeating. Research shows that whole grain rice varieties can help prevent insulin resistance that is related to an increased risk for obesity.
History and Uses in Traditional Medicine
Why is black rice called forbidden rice? This nickname goes back thousands of years ago to Ancient China when a group of Chinese noblemen gathered up all of the black rice grains and withheld them from public consumption. This turned black rice into a delicacy for only the wealthy and royals of Ancient China. The commoners could no longer eat or grow this forbidden black rice.
Forbidden rice was actually only first introduced to the U.S. in the 1990s, although it’s been enjoyed in other parts of the world for much longer. Today it is no longer forbidden but still is grown in relatively small amounts, especially compared to other types of widely available rice varieties.
As you probably know, all rice varieties are substantial and important crops in the diets of nearly every Asian population and have been for thousands of years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, forbidden rice has been known for being good for the kidneys, stomach and liver since ancient times.
Forbidden rice contains anthocyanins, and foods that contain these potent antioxidants have long been used in traditional medicine for their health benefits. According to one scientific article:
Anthocyanin-rich mixtures and extracts (though not purified compounds) have been used historically to treat conditions as diverse as hypertension, pyrexia, liver disorders, dysentery and diarrhea, urinary problems including kidney stones and urinary tract infections, and the common cold. They have even been purported to yield improvements to vision and blood circulation.
Black Rice vs. Wild Rice vs. Brown Rice
Cultivated rice, which includes black and brown varieties, are all said to originate from the genus Oryza over 10,000 years ago. Wild rice is in fact wild, typically growing in shallow water in small lakes or slow-flowing streams.
But it’s actually not rice! Wild rice is technically a grain from a reed-like aquatic plant (Zizania palustris), which is not related to rice.
Black and brown rice have a similar consistency and nutty flavor. Wild rice also has a nutty taste, but it has a chewy outer layer and the grain on the inside has a somewhat vegetal flavor.
Is black rice better than brown rice? Is it healthier than wild rice? If you’re wondering how black rice nutrition compares to other rice varieties, here’s how the different types of rice differ in terms of nutrient content when we compare a 1/4 cup cooked serving:
- Black rice:
- 4 grams protein
- 32 grams carbohydrates
- 2.3 grams fiber
- 0.8 gram sugars
- 0.7 milligram iron
- Highest amount of antioxidants of any rice variety
- Wild rice:
- 1.6 grams protein
- 9 grams carbohydrates
- 0.7 gram fiber
- 0.3 gram sugars
- 1 milligram calcium
- 0.3 milligram iron
- Brown rice:
- 1.9 grams protein
- 19.5 grams carbohydrates
- 1.1 grams fiber
- 0 grams sugars
- 11 grams calcium
- 0.4 milligram iron
You can see that black rice contains the highest amount of antioxidants, protein and dietary fiber. It’s also the best source of iron of the three, which can be hard to get for plant-based eaters who rely on grains and legumes for protein.
When comparing black rice vs. brown rice, they both contain vitamin E, but black rice has a higher amount. All three options have almost no sugar per quarter cup serving, but wild rice and brown rice have less carbs than black rice.
What about black rice vs. quinoa? Both are carbs that contain impressive amounts of protein, fiber and other nutrients. Quinoa is a pseudocereal, a seed that is prepared and eaten like a grain. It has a more neutral flavor than forbidden rice. Both can be used very similarly in recipes with quinoa taking less time to cook than forbidden rice.
Where to Find and How to Cook
The popularity of black rice and knowledge about its numerous health benefits are growing in Western nations, including in the U.S., but it still remains much less popular than the less healthy white rice and even similar brown rice.
If you’re wondering where to buy black rice, you can likely find it in most health food stores and large gourmet food markets, in addition to Asian supermarkets. Some more mainstream grocery stores are even starting to carry it these days. The hope is that as more people learn about black rice benefits and demand it, it becomes more widely available at larger chain supermarkets and restaurants.
Since the health benefits of black rice are in the bran of the rice, you always want to purchase 100 percent whole grain black rice. You can be sure you get the correct type by checking the ingredient label and looking for the words “whole black rice” as the first, and ideally the only, ingredient on the list.
Forbidden comes from the same plant family as other colored rices and includes several varieties, such as Indonesian black rice and Thai jasmine black rice. The different types of forbidden rice contain very similar health benefits and all have a mild, nutty taste that is similar to the taste of more familiar brown rice.
Because it is unrefined and denser than white rice, cooking forbidden rice takes longer. For best results, soak the rice for at least one hour before cooking it and preferably for several hours. If you can plan ahead of time and soak your rice, you will cut down on the amount of cooking time required and also make the nutrients in the rice more absorbable.
After soaking your rice, rinse the rice clean and then place it on the stove with two cups of water for every one cup of rice. Boil the rice for at least one half hour if you did soak the rice or for one hour if you didn’t.
Check the texture of the rice after this time to see if it is chewy and cooked through. If not, keep boiling until it reaches the texture you’re looking for.
Not sure what to do with black rice? It makes a delicious side dish all on its own with some salt and pepper, but you can also add it stir-fries, soups and stews, or sprinkle it on top of a salad. Add cooked black rice to homemade veggie burgers, in burritos instead of white rice, or served with fresh roasted vegetables and your favorite source of protein.
Some people even chose to grind the dry rice kernels in a coffee grinder or food processor and then use the ground rice to bake with, coat fish with or just to sprinkle over other foods for an extra antioxidant boost.
Forbidden rice is a part of many traditional Chinese desserts and snacks, such as dessert porridge, black rice cakes or breads, noodles, and more. As you can see, there are plenty of options for adding some to your diet.
Another interesting application for forbidden rice is to use it as a natural food-coloring agent. Currently some small manufacturers add it either ground or in extract form to beverages and foods in order to avoid using artificial dyes and ingredients that can be harmful in numerous ways.
Try using black rice in place of brown rice in these healthy black rice recipes:
You can also try subbing in forbidden rice for wild rice in this Quinoa Salad with Dark Cherries and Kale Recipe or using it in this Rice Pudding Recipe in place of cauliflower to make a black rice pudding.
Risks and Side Effects
Although black rice contains beneficial nutrients, grains are usually most beneficial when they are eaten in moderation as part of an otherwise healthy and well-rounded diet.
There are many black rice benefits, and side effects are minimal as long as you don’t eat too much. Even though black rice does contain more fiber and antioxidants than refined grains or carbohydrate foods, all grains still have the ability to affect blood sugar levels, so keeping an eye on portion sizes of all grains is always a good idea.
It also helps to consume rice with a source of healthy fat and some protein. This further delays the time it takes the carbohydrates’ sugars to impact blood glucose levels.
Scientists are finding that some rice contains the heavy metal arsenic, you can perform simple cooking tricks to avoid low-level arsenic poisoning from rice. Cooking rice more like pasta — in six to 10 parts water per one part rice — drastically reduces arsenic levels. U.K. researchers also found cooking rice in a coffee pot reduces arsenic by up to 85 percent.
- Black rice, also called forbidden rice or emperor’s rice, is a healthier alternative to white rice that can be used in all of the same ways.
- Black rice health benefits, which mainly stem from its impressive antioxidant content, include boosting heart health, warding off cancer, improving inflammation, helping balance blood sugar and improving digestive health.
- Forbidden rice has the most antioxidants of all the rice varieties. The most notable and beneficial antioxidant is anthocyanin.
- Forbidden rice is naturally gluten-free and has a lot more nutrients than white rice, a more commonly consumed gluten-free option.
- Ancient, whole grains like forbidden rice can play a healthy part in someone’s diet, as long as they are mindful of how much they consume and also make sure to get plenty of filling protein and healthy fats from other food sources that are better suppliers of these important macronutrients.