What Is Black Rice? 4 Reasons to Add This Nutritious Grain to Your Diet

Plus, tips on how to cook and store it.

Bowl of black rice with chopsticks on blue background
Photo: Getty Images

Rice is a culinary staple, and we're betting you probably have some brown rice, jasmine rice, or maybe even some wild rice in your pantry at this very moment. While each of those rice varieties has a distinct flavor profile and slew of nutritional benefits, the oft overlooked black rice has something to bring to the table (literally!) as well. Sometimes referred to as purple rice or forbidden rice, the term "black rice" actually encompasses a range of different rice types that have a myriad of health benefits and culinary uses.

Ready to learn more about this tasty grain? Here's everything you need to know about black rice.

What Is Black Rice?

Black rice is actually a range of rice types that includes Indonesian black rice, Philippine balatinaw black rice, pirurutong black glutinous rice, and Thai jasmine black rice. It's a medium-grain rice that originated in China and other parts of Asia some 10,000 years ago. It gets its other common name—forbidden rice—because it was once solely reserved for the Chinese emperor to ensure his health and longevity, and forbidden to all others. Today, you can find black rice at your local supermarket or Asian specialty market.

What sets black rice apart from other, similar grains is obviously its hue, which is actually caused by a gene mutation. While it looks black when it is raw, it actually adopts more of a deep purple color once it's cooked. This unmistakable shade comes from anthocyanins found in the grain's bran hull, or outermost layer. These chemical compounds, which are the same pigments responsible for the color of eggplants, blueberries, and concord grapes, may appear red, purple, blue, or black, depending on their pH.

As far as taste is concerned, black rice has a mild, nutty flavor, similar to that of brown rice. It also has a very chewy texture, which is why it's often used in porridge, puddings, and rice cakes. And those who avoid gluten will be pleased to learn that black rice is naturally gluten-free.

Black Rice Nutrition and Benefits

Some rice varieties are more nutritious than others, and as the Chinese believed thousands of years ago, black rice is near the top of the healthy rice list. In fact, it has more fiber and protein than red, brown, or white rice, and gets an extra nutritious boost from those aforementioned anthocyanins.

Black rice is a good source of protein and iron

According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of black rice contains just under 9 grams of protein. By contrast, the same size serving of brown rice has only 7 grams of protein. Black rice is also a solid source of iron (providing about 2.4 milligrams per serving), which helps carry oxygen throughout your body.

Black rice is packed with antioxidants

Move over, brown rice! Per a 2018 study, black rice actually has the highest overall antioxidant capacity and activity of any rice variety. This is, in large part, due to its anthocyanin content. Antioxidants like anthocyanin help protect your cells against oxidative stress, which has been scientifically linked to an increased risk of certain conditions, such as heart disease, Alzheimer's, and some types of cancer.

Additionally, a 2015 study found that anthocyanin specifically can protect the body from inflammation and some forms of cancer, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

And that's not all. Aside from anthocyanin, black rice contains more than 23 plant compounds with antioxidant properties, including multiple kinds of flavonoids and carotenoids.

Black rice promotes heart health

Yes, eating black rice may give your heart a healthy boost. Per a 2019 study, flavonoids, which are antioxidants found in black rice, may decrease one's risk of developing and dying from heart disease. Additionally, there is some early research to suggest that anthocyanins may help improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which is good for heart health.

Black rice is beneficial for eye health

Remember those carotenoids we mentioned, which are found in black rice? Two such carotenoids—lutein and zeaxanthin—have been shown to improve eye health. More specifically, a 2018 study noted that these compounds help safeguard the retina by filtering out damaging blue light waves. Additional research suggests that lutein and zeaxanthin may protect one's eyes from age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness.

How to Cook Black Rice

Despite its different hue, cooking black rice is very similar to how you might prepare other types of rice. There's no need to rinse it first, as doing so may strip away some of those helpful nutrients.

To cook black rice on the stovetop, use 2 cups of water per 1 cup of rice. For chewier rice, feel free to use slightly less water, and for a softer texture, use a bit more water. Once the water begins to boil, add the rice, cover the pot, and let it simmer on the stove. You'll know the rice is done once it has a tender texture and the water has been absorbed. This usually takes about 30 to 35 minutes—roughly 10 minutes longer than other types of rice.

When the rice has finished cooking, remove the saucepan from the heat and let it stand, covered, for about 10 minutes. Fluff the rice and serve.

How Long Does Black Rice Stay Good For?

According to the USDA, dry goods, such as uncooked black rice, should be stored in airtight bags or boxes and be kept in a cool, dark, and dry place in order to prevent mold. If you intend to keep your black rice in its original packaging, be sure to frequently check it for holes, which could allow moisture or bugs to get in. To provide extra protection, place black rice in plastic or glass food storage containers. Uncooked black rice will stay fresh in the pantry for up to six months, and can be kept in the freezer for about a year.

Cooked black rice, on the other hand, should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will stay fresh for about three to five days.

Black Rice Recipes

When it comes to cooking with black rice, feel free to use it in dishes where you would normally use white or brown rice, such as grain bowls or fried rice. Black rice also shines in desserts, like rice pudding. Check out some black rice recipes below.

Black Rice Bowl With Tahini, PIstachios, and Raspberries
Greg DuPree

Black Rice With Slivered Almonds

This simple side, which would go great with a chicken or fish dish, pairs black rice with slivered almonds and some diced onion. Feel free to use different nuts if you don't have almonds on hand, or add in some dried cranberries if you're in the mood for something a tad sweet. Get the recipe.

Black Rice Pudding

This traditional Thai recipe is proof that black rice makes for a (relatively) healthy, hearty, dessert. The bold grain is combined with palm sugar, coconut cream, and a dash of vanilla extract to create a sweet course you'll want to make over and over again. Get the recipe.

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