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Black is the new black

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Antioxidant-rich black rice is an exotic staple quickly gaining popularity in North America

It’s cheaper than some superfruits and packed with antioxidants. And today everyone and anyone can eat it. Black rice is also known as forbidden rice, because in ancient China it was rare and, since they knew even then that the black rice grains were packed with nutrition, only the nobles ate it. According to, during the Ming Dynasty it was believed that black rice helped ensure good health and long life, and so was reserved only for emperors.


What is black rice?



A Google search of black or forbidden rice yields numerous results, many touting its health benefits. A study from 2010 also shows that black rice rivals fresh blueberries and blackberries as a source of antioxidants. The study was presented at the American Chemical Society by Zhimin Xu, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La.


“Just a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health-promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar and more fibre and vitamin E antioxidants,” Xu explained at the time. “If berries are used to boost health, why not black rice and black rice bran? Especially, black rice bran would be a unique and economical material to increase consumption of health-promoting antioxidants.”


Jane Dummer, a food consultant, writer and dietitian based in Kitchener, Ont., also points out that those anthocyanin antioxidants are responsible for the dark purple colour. White rice is milled, which removes the bran and possibly other layers of the grain, however black rice is whole with the bran still intact.


What are its benefits?


Black rice contains those anthocyanin antioxidants and fibre, and is a good source of iron and important amino acids (protein building blocks), says Dummer. Generally, anthocyanins are phytochemicals found in deep blue and purple foods, which are thought to fight chronic diseases including some cancers and heart disease. In fact, she says, “early studies have shown balanced diets with black rice may decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”


The Boston-based Whole Grains Council refers to another study on its site from a team of researchers at Cornell University, who found that antioxidants were about six times higher in black rice than in common brown and white rice. The researchers looked at 12 varieties of black rice and analyzed the phenolic content and antioxidant activity.


Dummer says she first wrote about black rice in 2013 when she saw it introduced into the gluten-free market. “Black rice is viewed as exotic, but is growing in popularity, perhaps due to its availability at specialty food stores, its high nutrient content, interesting colour and its appeal to the gluten-free marketplace,” she says.


Processing with black rice


Xu wrote that food manufacturers could potentially use black rice bran or the bran extracts to boost the health value of beverages, cakes, cookies and breakfast cereals. In fact a recent story on reported that in China black cereal “is a massively growing trend.” One product mentioned in the article was from Guangxi Nanfang Black Sesame Food, which produces a hot black cereal made with a blend of black ingredients such as black rice, black sesame seeds and black beans.


Xu and his team of scientists also showed that pigments in black rice bran extracts can produce a variety of different colours, ranging from pink to black. Because of this they may provide a healthier alternative to artificial food colourants that manufacturers now add to some food and beverages, especially as several studies have linked some artificial colourants to cancer, behavioural problems in children, and other health problems.

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