Ancient China's 'forbidden rice' set to become latest superfood
The cereal, revered in ancient China but overlooked in the West, is low in sugar but packed with healthy fibre and plant compounds that combat heart disease and cancer, say experts.
It is a new addition to the list of so-called superfoods, such as blueberries and pomegranates, which contain key nutrients that help boost health.
Centuries ago, black rice was known as "forbidden rice" in China because only nobles were allowed to eat it. Now it is mainly used in Asia for food decoration, noodles, sushi and desserts.
Experts at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston say the compounds in black rice - anthocyanin antioxidants - could help improve people's wellbeing.
Food scientist Dr Zhimin Xu said: "Just a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health-promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar and more fibre and vitamin E antioxidants.
"If berries are used to boost health, why not black rice and black rice bran?"
Bran is the hard outer coating of a cereal grain that is often removed during processing.
Research suggests plant antioxidants, which mop up harmful molecules, can help protect arteries and prevent the DNA damage that leads to cancer.
Anthocyanins provide the dark colours of many fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries and red peppers. They are what makes black rice "black".
Food manufacturers could potentially use black rice bran or bran extracts to make breakfast cereals, beverages, cakes, biscuits and other foods healthier, said Dr Xu, from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
When rice is processed, millers remove the outer layers of the grains to produce brown rice or more refined white rice - the kind most widely consumed in the West. Brown rice is said to be more nutritious, but according to Dr Xu's team, varieties of rice that are black or purple in colour are healthier still.
The team analysed samples of bran from black rice and found boosted levels of water-soluble anthocyanin antioxidants.