Say hello to this dark beauty. Also known as forbidden rice, black rice tops other kinds of rice with its good looks, nutty flavor and whole grain nutrition. What's not to love?

Laurie Herr
February 19, 2020
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Credit: Getty Images / Claudia Totir

You may know black rice by its more exotic name, forbidden rice. Long ago in ancient China, black rice was considered so rare and nutritious that royalty reserved it only for themselves, believing the mysterious dark grain would give them longer life.

Luckily for us commoners, black rice is no longer rare or forbidden. Today you can easily find it online and in natural food stores along with many regular grocery stores.

But the emperors were right about one thing: Black rice is packed with nutrition. Here are some of its many health benefits, along with some delicious ways to enjoy it.

Black Rice Nutrition

One-quarter cup of uncooked black rice provides:

  • 160 calories
  • 4 g of protein
  • 1.5 g of fat
  • 34 g of carbohydrates
  • 1 g of fiber
  • 1 mg of iron

Compared to brown and white rice, black rice has more protein. "This makes black rice a better choice if you want to build muscle," says Sandra J. Arevalo, MPH, RDN, CDN, CLC, CDE, FADA, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

One serving of black rice also provides 6% of your daily requirements of iron, a mineral we need to keep our blood strong and supply oxygen to our cells. A lack of iron can lead to anemia, a common problem among women, young children and older adults.

Finally, black rice delivers fiber. One serving provides 4% of your daily fiber needs, knocking the socks off white rice, a refined grain with no fiber to speak of.

As you may already know, most of us don't get enough fiber—so adding some from whole grains is important. It's recommended women get 25 grams of fiber per day, and men 38 grams.

Of course, fiber helps keep you regular—but it does much more than that. Research shows the fiber found in black rice and other whole grains can help you lose weight and lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and some kinds of cancer, including cancers of the colon, stomach, rectum and ovaries (learn more about the benefits of eating more fiber).

Supplies Many Antioxidants

Not to be picky, but black rice isn't actually black — it's more of a deep shade of purple. That rich color is due to anthocyanins, a pigment with especially powerful antioxidant properties. In fact, black rice has the highest antioxidant activity of any kind of rice. It even beats out blueberries, the queen of antioxidant-rich fruits (see which foods top the list of antioxidant-rich foods).

"Just a spoonful of black rice contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar and more fiber and vitamin E antioxidants," the lead researchers said in a report presented at a 2010 meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Those anthocyanins may have cancer-fighting properties. A 2018 review of a dozen population-based studies found that eating foods high in anthocyanins (read: naturally dark purple foods like berries, grapes, eggplant and—wait for it—black rice) may lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

Along with anthocyanins, black rice is high in other phytochemicals, adding even more oomph to its antioxidant power.

That's nothing to sneeze at. Stacks of studies show that eating a variety of foods high in antioxidants and other nutrients can help protect against heart disease, cancer, vision loss and other chronic diseases — even early death from all causes.

Naturally Gluten-Free

Nothing against wheat, barley and rye—they're all perfectly respectable whole grains. But they do contain gluten, a protein that causes problems for some folks—from bloating and stomach pain for those with mild gluten sensitivity, to intestinal damage and malnutrition for people with celiac disease.

The good news: Black rice is a naturally gluten-free whole grain, making it a safe and healthy option for anyone, even if you simply prefer to cut down on gluten in your diet. Here are 7 other healthy gluten-free grains to add to your diet.

How to Use Black Rice

Pictured recipe: Banh Mi Black Rice Bowls

Black rice has a mild, earthy flavor and chewy texture. "If you love white or yellow rice, you might find the taste of black rice a bit different," Arevalo says. She likes to add black rice to salads for a complete meal. "Try black rice over mixed greens with salmon, mango and fresh cilantro," she suggests.

Black rice takes a little longer to cook than other kinds of rice, but soaking and rinsing it beforehand can help save on cooking time.

Otherwise, you can use black rice as you would any other kind of rice—in grain bowls, stuffing, sides, main dishes, even desserts. Its dark color looks particularly striking in contrast with bright fruits and veggies, making it a Pinterest- and Instagram-worthy choice. Try black rice in these recipes: Black Sticky Rice and Citrus Shrimp With Black Rice.

The Bottom Line

More than just another pretty face, black rice is a nutritious, tasty and gluten-free alternative to other types of whole grains. Its fiber, protein, iron and high levels of antioxidants make it a smart choice for incorporating into both special and everyday meals.