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Popular culture is full of news about superfoods, naturally sourced whole foods meant to heal and deliver a plethora of nutrients. Sometimes it can be difficult to discern which ones are truly good for you and which are simply part of a new food fad. It seems the more unusual the ingredient, the more hype it receives. But there is one food that lives up to its epic claims and, until now, has remained somewhat of a hidden secret amongst foodies and keepers of Asian culture.
Black rice belongs to the species Oryza sativa.
The rice has been cultivated in short, medium and long-grain varieties and is noted for its slightly sweet, nutty taste. Despite its name, black rice also contains beautiful hues of purple in addition to a coal-black color. Black rice gets its color from the presence of anthocyanins, the same nutrients that lend eggplant, açai berries, blueberries and concord grapes their unique hues. For those used to rice of the white and brown varieties, the aesthetics of black rice alone make it highly sought after. But it’s not just a photogenic dish. Black rice can easily be considered one of the most nutritious species of rice available.
Used frequently in traditional Chinese medicine, black rice was once forbidden to those who were not a part of the elite ruling classes. Black rice was highly sought after for its medicinal properties, and word-of-mouth claims that its consumption helps support a long life. Once coveted and treasured in mostly Asian communities, black rice has grown in popularity over recent years. It lives up to its growing fame as a healthier, more flavorful (and fancier) version of white and brown rice.
Black rice is known to reduce inflammation and is naturally gluten-free, making it a highly sought-after choice for those with gluten intolerance. It is also known to support eye health due to the presence of carotenoids. Black rice contains high amounts of amino acids, antioxidants and fatty acids. It also contains more iron than white rice.
I enjoy eating black rice when I want to add a boost of flavor to simple dishes like rice and beans. One of my favorite ways to prepare black rice is boiling the rice along with adzuki beans in a base of yellow miso broth, fresh garlic and onions. This very simple dish combines nutrient-rich black rice with miso soup. The broth made from slightly fermented soybeans contains many healthy vitamins and minerals like vitamin k, manganese, zinc, protein and calcium. The fermentation makes miso a great choice for anyone managing gut health challenges and assists in the digestion of the rice and beans in which it is cooked.
Black rice is best if pre-soaked; this aids in achieving the perfect softness once cooked. With the addition of lightly sautéed garlic, diced onion, carrots,and adzuki beans (or any bean of choice), the dish becomes a meal in itself. It also cooks well in an Instant pot or rice cooker, taking the guesswork out of cooking times and sometimes eliminating the need for a pre-soak.
Due to its increasing availability on the mass market, I am certain social media and foodie circles will soon be flooded with new renditions of this heirloom rice.
Once forbidden to the masses, black rice could be the key to redeeming rice as a viable and healthy alternative for those looking for a hearty side dish or main entree.
Words by Kaba Abdul-Fattaah