Rice has been a staple food in many cultures for thousands of years. It is often given a bad reputation for being “empty carbs”, but did you know that there are different types of rice that can give added nutrients to your diet? One of those is called purple rice for its deep purple grain colour. Once referred to as forbidden rice during emperor rule in China, it used to be only reserved for royalty because of its rarity and health benefits. Today, it is eaten around the world. In this article, we dive into the details of the nutrients purple rice has to offer and if you should incorporate it into your diet.
About purple rice
Cultivated rice, or the Latin name Oryza sativa, is a starchy cereal grain from the grass plant of the Poaceae family. Around half of the world’s population depends on rice as a staple food in their diet.
The first recorded mention of rice dates back to 2800 BC in China. Records were from honouring the grain with annual rice ceremonies during sowing time to scatter the first rice seeds of the season.1
Rice requires high volumes of water with long, uninterrupted seasons of hot, dry weather. It can be grown in one of two ways: upland or wetland. In upland rice cultivation, rice is grown on level or well-drained soils. Wetland rice cultivation involves rice growing in waterlogged soils for the entire season. The different cultivation methods influence grain weight and zinc concentration. These specific conditions are the reason why rice is mostly grown in Asian countries.
While most people may think of rice as either white or brown, rice can come in a variety of colours, each with its own levels of nutrients and health benefits. One of the most nutritious rice grains is purple rice.
What is purple rice?
Purple rice, also referred to as black rice, is a type of rice variety that has amazing health benefits. To understand the importance of purple rice, let’s look at its history. Purple rice dates back to old China, where it was called forbidden rice or emperor’s rice from its exclusivity to the emperor and royalty for health and longevity benefits. Purple rice has a long history of cultivation and utilization in Asian countries. In Laos, it is used for special occasions and for brewing alcoholic beverages. Countries like China and Korea incorporate purple rice for health benefits and traditional medicine.
The component responsible for the deep purple colour of the rice is the antioxidant nutrient anthocyanin, which is what makes the red, purple, and blue colours in fruits and vegetables such as aubergines, blueberries, and strawberries.2 The variation of the pigmentation intensity, whether appearing a deep purple or almost black in colour, is due to a genetic mutation that influences the concentration of anthocyanin.
Health benefits of purple rice
As a result of it’s many nutrients, there are a number of health benefits associated with purple rice. Similar to brown rice, purple rice is considered a whole grain. A whole grain refers to rice that still has the bran and germ, where most of the additional nutrients come from. All rice types are a great source of carbohydrates, but higher fibre rice can help maintain blood sugar levels. Purple and brown rice contain the highest amount of fibre than other rice types and can help in weight loss or management, as fibre can help sustain the feeling of fullness.
All types of rice are naturally gluten-free, even the “glutinous” rice, making a suitable source of grain for people with gluten sensitivities or Coeliac disease. Purple rice generally provides a higher protein amount than any other rice, making it a suitable addition to vegetarian meals for the added benefit.
Compared to white rice, purple rice can help people with diabetes through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The blood glucose index was reported as 55 compared to 87 with white rice, causing fewer blood glucose fluctuations.3
The FoodData Central from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the nutritional infomation of black rice (purple rice) to be:4
|Amount (per 100g purple rice)
Nutrients we can get from purple rice
What contributes to these important anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of purple rice?
There are a number of important nutrients we can get from purple rice that contribute to overall health:
Zinc is an important mineral that helps cells grow and multiply, thus helping support a healthy immune system.5 It is an important nutrient that helps prevent health issues such as cancer, type 1 and 2 diabetes, hair and memory loss, skin issues, and the weakening of body muscles.6
Anthocyanin is a strong antioxidant, the same nutrient that gives blueberries their colour and antioxidant properties. It has been shown to protect cells from harmful radicals, such as reactive oxygen species. It helps to prevent heart and cardiovascular disease, cancer, and control diabetes. 6 Brown and white rice does not contain this pigmentation.
Iron is an important mineral in red blood cells, which are responsible to carry oxygen through the body. It has been reported as the most common nutritional deficiency, presenting by fatigue and lightheadedness. Purple rice is generally higher in iron than brown rice.
Fibre helps you feel full and regulates your blood sugar. Harvard University recommends that children and adults have 25-35 grams of fibre a day for good health, but many people get as few as 15 grams a day.7
Protein provides essential amino acids, amino acids that we cannot make ourselves, to support virtually every part of our body. Eating enough protein helps increase muscle mass, immunity, and heart health.8
Ways to use purple rice for our health
Purple rice is quick and easy to cook. By just adding water to rice and putting it to boil, it can be a base for any dish. Purple rice has a slightly nutty flavour, unprocessed whole grain rice and can be added or substituted to any rice dish for additional nutrients. Before eating rice, make sure to rinse with water to clear any additional starch.
You have the option of glutinous or non-glutinous purple rice, although neither contains gluten. Glutinous rice is slightly sweeter with a stickier texture compared to non-glutinous rice.
One popular way that people incorporate purple rice in their diet is to cook it with white rice. A common easy dish is Korean purple rice, which is a mix of medium-grain white rice and purple rice. The more purple rice you mix with the white rice, the deeper the colour the rice will turn out and the more benefits from the purple rice. This simple dish can be eaten as is or used as a base for many veggie or meat dishes.
How much is enough?
Although purple rice is safe to eat every day, if too much is consumed, it can lead to side effects such as bloating, gas, or abdominal pain from its high fibre content. It is important to stay hydrated and drink water to help digestion.
Rice, Oryza sativa, is a staple food in half the world’s population. However, there are many different colours of rice other than white and brown. Purple rice has many names: black rice, forbidden rice, and emperor’s rice, to describe its appearance and history. In the days of emperor rule in China, purple rice was rare and could only be eaten by royalty for its health benefits. Today, it is eaten across the world. The deep purple colour comes from anthocyanin, a rich antioxidant that also contributes to the colours of aubergine, blueberries, and strawberries. With its sweet, nutty flavour, this gluten-free, high-fibre, protein-rich grain is great for nearly everyone. Purple rice can be easily substituted or incorporated with white rice but with additional benefits. It contains nutrients such as iron, anthocyanin, and zinc to help improve your overall well-being. You might want to think about adding purple rice to your meals for additional nutritional benefits!
- History of rice [Internet]. The Rice Association. [cited 2023 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.riceassociation.org.uk/history-of-rice
- Khoo HE, Azlan A, Tang ST, Lim SM. Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits. Food Nutr Res [Internet]. 2017 Aug 13 [cited 2023 Mar 20];61(1):1361779. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5613902/
- Peng B, Lou AQ, Luo XD, Wang R, Tu S, Xue ZY, et al. The Nutritional Value and Application of Black Rice-A Review. Journal of Biotechnology Research. 2021 Sep 2;63–72.
- FoodData Central [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 21]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/356561/nutrients
- Boston 677 Huntington Avenue, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. Zinc [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2019 [cited 2023 Mar 22]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc/
- Utasee S, Jamjod S, Lordkaew S, Prom-U-Thai C. Improve Anthocyanin and Zinc Concentration in Purple Rice by Nitrogen and Zinc Fertilizer Application. Rice Science [Internet]. 2022 Sep 1 [cited 2023 Mar 20];29(5):435–50. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1672630822000579
- Boston 677 Huntington Avenue, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. Fiber [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2012 [cited 2023 Mar 23]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
- Boston 677 Huntington Avenue, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. Protein [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2012 [cited 2023 Mar 23]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/