Black rice is a grain that was domesticated in Asia. As such it is widely used in the cuisines of countries such as China, Japan and Korea. It is also called purple rice for the shade it obtains once cooked.
The specific color of this food product is owed to the presence of anthocyanins (pigments) in it. These same pigments are found in grapes and blueberries. Black rice is highly valued not only as an exotic component to dishes but also for its role as a superfood.
History of Black Rice
Black rice has an incredibly long history. The ancient Chinese called it "Emperor's rice". The common folk saw it as a forbidden food since only the emperor and his dignitaries had the right to eat the dark grains. Severe punishment awaited any subject who dared reach for the heavenly rice. Often those bold enough were even sentenced to death.
But why did the ruling class insist so much on being the only ones to consume black rice? According to the beliefs at the time, the little black grains were capable of providing long life and health to anyone who ate them. Long ago, black rice was also considered medicinal.
Folk healers would recommend its use for stomach problems and for stimulating adrenal gland function. It was also thought to improve vision, was used as an aphrodisiac and a way to improve blood circulation.
Composition of Black Rice
It is no wonder that black rice was among the favorite foods of the ancients. It owes all of its beneficial properties to its rich composition. Black rice is a source of protein, numerous healthy amino acids, vitamin B9 and vitamin E. It contains minerals such as magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, carotene, fiber and more. In fact the amount of fibers in it is 4 times that of white rice. Black rice has a low content of sugar and gluten is completely absent from its composition.
Cooking Black Rice
To cook this type of rice properly, several characteristics need to be taken into consideration. Black rice has harder hulls when compared to its white cousin, which is why it requires soaking beforehand. After you clean and wash the rice you can leave it in water (which you can later use in the dish) for 7 to 8 hours, and then proceed to heat treatment.
If you don't soak this type of rice not only will you have to boil it longer later but there is also a great risk of digestion problems. Rice that has been well soaked needs to boil for about 30 min. in water (in a 1:2 ratio) and will then be easy to digest. Cooked rice is distinguished by a dark violet color, a well expressed nutty aroma and a barely tangible sweet aftertaste.
Another thing that needs to be taken into consideration when cooking it is that it colors any food product that it's combined with. This property makes it the experienced chef's product of choice. But if you're not looking for this effect then it's better to substitute it with brown rice which will not dye the other products in the dish in any special nuance.
Otherwise, black rice is used not only in main courses but in salads and garnishes too. It can be combined with all kinds of vegetables, sometimes even with fruits. It is used in different porridges, seafood dishes such as shrimp, mussels, crabs, calamari and others. Often it is used in sushi.
The combination of black rice and coconut milk is yet another culinary delight, bearing strong resemblance to rice pudding.
Benefits of Black Rice
Black rice piques the curiosity of today's doctors, not unlike the way it did to ancient healers. As such it has become an object of research in modern times. Some of the latest studies reveal that black rice helps in the prevention of different types of cancer, diabetes, hypertension and other serious illnesses. According to American researchers, just a small fraction of this rice contains a whole lot more healthy substances than blueberries which maintain the reputation of being a superfood.
This type of rice is a source of vitamins and minerals much needed by our body in order to develop properly. We have the greatest need of these substances during the cold months when we are attacked by all kinds of viruses and our immune system is in a weakened state.
To some degree black rice is considered healthier than white rice because it contains less sodium. Further, it does not contain gluten, turning it into a preferred food for gluten intolerant people who can't eat grains such as wheat, barley and rye.
Black rice is a favored food for many other reasons as well. It is recommended for eating against hair problems, including hair loss and greying hair. According to Chinese medicine, it improves liver function and is especially good for women who have recently given birth. It is recommended for kidney and digestive problems as well.