What is Forbidden or Purple Emperor's Rice?

Forbidden Rice
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Black rice, also called forbidden rice or "Emperor's Rice" is gaining popularity for its high levels of antioxidants and superior nutritional value. Forbidden rice earned its name because it was once reserved for the Chinese Emperor, for whom it was meant to ensure health and longevity. Forbidden Rice is a medium-grain, non-glutinous heirloom rice with a deep purple hue and a nutty, slightly sweet flavor.

The whole-grain rice is rich in anthocyanins, antioxidant pigments that give the rice its unusual color. Relative to other rice varieties, Forbidden Rice is high in protein and iron; according to Chinese medicine, it is considered a blood tonic.

Forbidden Rice Origin and Spread

10,000 years ago one crop of rice in China created is now hundreds of types of rice. Black rice, however, is one that is unique. Its purplish black color is owed to its high concentration of anthocyanin. It is the same antioxidant responsible for the color of eggplant, blueberries, açaí berries, and concord grapes as well as purple cauliflower, purple corn, and blood oranges. Black rice is available in specialty grocery stores and may be listed as forbidden rice or Emporer's rice on restaurant menus. Most cultivated rice produces white grains, but black rice can thank a gene mutation for its color. Japanese researchers found that a change in a gene that controls anthocyanin rearranged to create black rice.

They found that the mutation occurred in a subspecies of rice. Since then, the rice has been replicated and transferred to other rice species through cross-breeding.

Where Forbidden Rice is Cultivated

Black rice is not as easy to grow as other rice varieties as it only yields about 10 percent of the harvest that other rice varieties do.

That makes the rice very expensive, which is why it was initially reserved only for the richest of the rich, which were Chinese royalty at the time it was first discovered. The grain is now cultivated in Southeast Asian countries including India, Indonesia, Thailand, and China. Owing to its popularity in Western countries, it is now also grown in small amounts in the southern states of the U.S. as well.

Black Rice Nutritional Value

In comparison to other rice varieties, black rice has more fiber and protein than red, brown or white rice. A 1/2 cup serving of prepared black rice, made from about 1/4 cup of uncooked rice, contains the following:

  • 160 calories
  • 1.5 grams of fat
  • 34 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 5 grams of protein
  • 4% DRV iron

You can find black rice in gourmet grocery stores and local Asian specialty markets. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's is likely to also carry the healthy rice.