If you rave over rice but crave complex carbs, you’ve probably thought your only option was a reluctant swap to brown rice. Brown rice might not taste as good, but since it's a complex carb, which means it has more fiber than simple carbs like white rice, it's "better for you." A reluctant sushi swap for most. But there’s another breed of the grain that has swamped the scene: black rice, also known by the more evocative title “forbidden rice.” And it could actually be the healthiest kind.
On Instagram, the rice has lately been the centerpiece of elaborate grain bowls, lurking mysteriously beneath its “forbidden” title as a new and enticing superfood.
Though Instagram only recently caught on, black rice has been around for ages. It’s rumored that in ancient China, the rice was reserved only for the emperor and other royalty. If common folk were caught noshing on rice that was a couple shades too dark, their lives could be in jeopardy.
Nowadays, however, there’s nothing forbidden or mysterious about it. Rice by any other name is still, well, rice. Forbidden rice is simply a type of rice that originated from a mutation of traditional Japanese rice according to a 2015 study. The rice remains popular in many Asian countries, often used as a main ingredient in rice-based desserts.
Before it’s cooked, the rice appears black in hue; but once you boil it, it turns a dark shade of purple. This purple color comes from anthocyanins, antioxidants also found in blueberries, blackberries, and other purplish plants.
Compared to brown rice, black “forbidden” rice could be the better choice. “Black rice has one of the highest concentrations of anthocyanins of any food!” nutritionist Ariane Resnick told The Daily Meal in an email. “The anthocyanins in this grain reduce inflammation, fight cancer via reducing free radicals, and have even been proven to reverse heart issues according to some studies.” Resnick also pointed out that it has more protein and more fiber than other rice varieties.
Whether or not the grain is flooding Instagram because of its health benefits or its purplish hue remains to be seen. But these health gurus seem to be onto something with their carefully cultivated plates of superfood-filled glory.
But you don’t have to be a trend-informed food photographer to incorporate this whole grain into your diet. According to Resnick, preparation can be simple and delicious. You simply need to know the proper cook time needed to get it right.
“Black rice cooks up more similarly to brown rice than white,” she advised. “Be sure to set aside enough time for it to cook, as it can take up to 40 minutes, and refrain from rinsing it so you don’t lose any of the anthocyanins on the surface of the grains.”
Once it’s cooked to appropriate tenderness, keep it covered for an additional 10 minutes if you want a softer feel similar to glutinous white rice. Black rice is naturally a little chewier than other kinds.
But once your rice is tender and correctly prepared, you can use it as a base for any of your favorite healthy rice dishes.