Is Black The New Blue? Black Rice Touted As An Antioxidant Match For Blueberries

Black rice photo courtesy of Flickr user Ann@74

Black rice photo courtesy of Flickr user Ann@74

Black rice is in the spotlight, based on a new study that found it’s even higher in antioxidants compared to blueberries.  Now everyone seems to be talking about black rice, which is also known as “Forbidden Rice.” The dark-hued grain got that moniker because according to Chinese legend, black rice was so coveted that only the emperors were allowed to eat it.

I’ve been on the black rice bandwagon for awhile — writing about the benefits and growing popularity of several black foods in my article three years ago for the Chicago Tribune Is Black the New Black? I previously posted about the trend of black garlic.

Black-colored foods are a signal of health in some parts of the world, and it may be the next big nutrition trend in this country. The black food craze is red-hot in Asia, particularly Japan, and it may be poised to jump West, according to Simone Baroke, health and wellness analyst for Euromonitor International, a global market research firm.

Paul Yamaguchi, a New York-based analyst of the functional-foods market in Japan, said that black foods have always played a prominent role in Japanese cuisine, but now they’ve reached new heights due to the health claims made by these products.

“Black foods have been eaten for hundreds of years in Japan for their rich taste, but now people are buying them for their nutritional value,” he said.

My article featured black beans, black carrots, black raspberries, black soybeans, black vinegar, black mushrooms, black sesame seeds and yes, black rice — which just got a major boost with this new research.  The recent  press release — and much of the news coverage — positioned black rice as an economical substitute for berries.

Health conscious consumers who hesitate at the price of fresh blueberries and blackberries, fruits renowned for high levels of healthful antioxidants, now have an economical alternative, scientists reported at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). “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 fiber and vitamin E antioxidants,” said Zhimin Xu, Associate Professor at the Department of Food Science at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., who reported on the research. “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.”

I don’t really care for the “move over blueberries, now you can eat black rice” approach. We shouldn’t be looking at this as a substitute.  Fruits contain additionally nutrients not found in grains.  And the sugar in berries is natural, so don’t criticize them for that.  But I do like the idea of elevating black rice and giving people more reasons to try it — especially instead of white rice.

Blueberries, cherries and other blue/red fruits contain anthocyanins — and that’s the same natural compound found in black rice.  This phytonutrient has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, benefits to the brain and anti-inflammation.

According to the press release, brown rice is the most widely produced rice variety worldwide. Rice millers remove only the outer husks, or “chaff,” from each rice grain to produce brown rice. If they process the rice further, removing the underlying nutrient rich “bran,” it becomes white rice. Xu noted that many consumers have heard that brown rice is more nutritious than white rice. The reason is that the bran of brown rice contains higher levels of gamma-tocotrienol, one of the vitamin E compounds, and gamma-oryzanol antioxidants, which are lipid-soluble antioxidants. Numerous studies showed that these antioxidants can reduce blood levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) — so called “bad” cholesterol — and may help fight heart disease. Xu and colleagues analyzed samples of black rice bran from rice grown in the southern United States. In addition, the lipid soluble antioxidants they found in black rice bran possess higher level of anthocyanins, which are water-soluble antioxidants. Thus, black rice bran may be even healthier than brown rice bran, suggested Dr. Xu.

Food manufacturers could potentially use black rice bran or the bran extracts to boost the health value of breakfast cereals, beverages, cakes, cookies, and other foods, Xu and colleagues suggested.  The pigments in black rice bran extracts can produce a variety of different colors, ranging from pink to black, which the scientists said could provide a healthier alternative to artificial food colors that manufacturers add to some foods and beverages.

It’s not easy to find black rice.  Whole Foods is probably your best bet, in addition to Asian markets. Xu is hopeful that this new research will encourage farmers in Louisiana to grow black rice and will get more people in the country to embrace its use.  I’m hopeful too, but so many people won’t even make the switch to brown rice.  I love the nuttier, chewier  taste of brown and black rice.

Have you made black rice?  Here are a few recipes to tempt you.  I sure like the idea of the first one from Martha Rose Shulman, why not marry black rice with blueberries!

Forbidden Rice Pudding With Blueberries from New York Times
Black Rice Pudding from Epicurious
Thai Forbidden Rice Salad from Barefoot Kitchen Witch
Forbidden Rice and Beans from Whole Foods

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