What Is Forbidden Rice?

No longer a forbidden grain, this beautiful black or purple rice is a versatile whole grain that adds color, texture and a lovely nutty flavor to many dishes and has potential health benefits.

In color psychology, purple represents prestige and exclusivity—this perception applies not just to colors used for clothing and decorations, but to foods, too. Forbidden rice is also known as imperial rice, heaven rice and king's rice. In ancient China, this exquisite ingredient was exclusive to the emperors, who ate it for longevity and good health. It was forbidden to all but the most wealthy and powerful people, thus its name.

No longer a rare gem, and now commonly referred to as black rice or purple rice, delicious, nutty-tasting forbidden rice is stealing the spotlight from other whole grains like barley and brown rice and turning up in more U.S. restaurants and home kitchens. What is so special about forbidden rice, and why is it so good for you? Read on to uncover this unique whole grain, its nutritional and potential health benefits, how to use it in everyday cooking and how to keep it fresh.

What Is Forbidden Rice?

Forbidden rice is a whole grain rice that is part of the Oryza sativa L. family that originated in China more than 4,000 years ago. Forbidden rice comes in different types and varieties, but collectively, they are all types of black rice. Researchers note that black rice was formed due to gene mutation, which triggered the production of the dark pigment anthocyanin, an antioxidant also found in blueberries, blackberries, eggplants and more. This dark pigment trait was then transferred to types of rice through crossbreeding, producing new varieties. When cooked, the rice color changes to radiate a deep dark-purple hue due to the anthocyanins found in the outermost shell of the grain.

You may think that black rice is a cousin of wild rice, but they are two different species. In fact, wild rice is the grain of water grass from the Zizania species that grows naturally in the Great Lakes region of North America.

Types of Forbidden Rice and How It's Used

Generally speaking, black rice offers a nutty, mild earthy flavor and a chewier texture than white rice and brown rice. It can be used in place of white rice in a variety of dishes, both savory and sweet. In China, black rice is used to make porridge; in Korea, black rice is cooked with white rice to make purple rice that's served with various meals. Black rice is also a popular ingredient used in Asian desserts, like Thai mango sticky rice, Chinese black glutinous rice sweet soup, Chinese black rice cake and more.

As with other rice varieties, long-grain forbidden rice is non-sticky and medium and short grains are stickier. Some common varieties that you may come across are:

  • Thai Black Jasmine Rice: A medium-grain rice that is a blend of Chinese black rice and jasmine rice
  • Black Japonica Rice: A blend of black short-grain rice and medium-grain rice that is sticky in texture
  • Black Glutinous Rice: A short-grain black rice that is sweet and sticky, commonly used in Asian desserts like sweet rice pudding and sweet rice cakes
  • Italian Black Rice: A long-grain rice that is a blend of Chinese black rice with Italian rice that offers a rich and buttery flavor
  • Balatinaw Black Rice: Semi-sticky with brown flecks, this variety of black rice is grown in the Philippines
  • Indonesian Black Rice: Comes in various types, including sticky short-grain and non-sticky long-grain
a photo of a bowl of Forbidden Rice
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Forbidden Rice Nutrition Facts

According to the USDA, 45 grams of black rice (about 1/4 cup dry; 1 cup cooked) provides:

  • 160 calories
  • 4 g protein
  • 1.5 g total fat
  • 34 g carbohydrates
  • 1 g fiber
  • 0 mg sodium

Black rice's calories and nutritional composition may vary from brand to brand—it is best to read the label at the time of purchase.

Forbidden Rice Has More Protein

Compared to brown rice, which has about 1 gram of protein per 45-gram serving, forbidden rice has about four times as much protein for the same serving size, making it a perfect choice for vegetarians and vegans looking for additional protein options. Protein is an important nutrient for many body functions, including building and repairing muscles and more.

Forbidden Rice May Promote Heart Health

Forbidden rice is an antioxidant powerhouse, offering up to six times the amount of antioxidants found in brown rice. This dark-colored rice also has more anthocyanins than blueberries, which are well-known for their antioxidant properties. A 2019 review published in Nutrients noted that eating anthocyanin-rich foods regularly may help reduce blood pressure and the likelihood of heart attacks. The thought is that anthocyanins may slow down plaque formation on the artery walls. When plaque builds up, blood flow slows down, and the heart needs to apply more pressure to pump blood to different body cells. When the artery becomes blocked with plaque, a heart attack might occur.

Other Potential Health Benefits of Forbidden Rice

A 2016 review of research studies on forbidden rice also suggests anthocyanins may act as the first line of defense to protect body cells from free radicals. Free radicals are formed as part of the normal chemical changes and processes in the body—but when there are a lot of free radicals present, they may damage body cells, making them lose their structure and function and increasing the risk of cancer and other diseases.

A 2022 study review in the Journal of Chemistry also noted that the anthocyanin found in black rice might support memory and coordination to prevent premature cognitive aging, such as Alzheimer's disease; more research is needed to confirm the antioxidant's effectiveness.

How to Cook Forbidden Rice

Like brown rice, forbidden black rice cooks slightly longer than white rice. Still, the key to cooked rice's perfect texture is the rice's ratio to water. At EatingWell, we recommend 1 cup of forbidden black rice to 2½ cups of water or broth. Here are the steps to our tried-and-true recipe for brown rice, which would also be used for making forbidden black rice. Note that you do not need to wash black rice before cooking, unless the package you have specifically calls for rinsing.

For 3 cups of cooked rice:

  1. Combine 1 cup rice and 2½ cups water (or broth) in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Cover the saucepan, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 40 to 45 minutes.
  3. Turn off the heat and let the rice stand for 5 minutes before fluffing it with a fork.

If you have a rice cooker, you can also use this handy appliance to make perfect forbidden rice. Check the rice cooker manufacturer's rice-to-water ratio instructions.

How Long Does Forbidden Rice Last?

Uncooked Forbidden Rice Storage

Since both are whole grains, forbidden rice has a shelf life similar to that of brown rice. When uncooked, forbidden rice can be stored in the pantry for up to one year. Once the package is opened, it can be stored for up to six months if refrigerated. It is best to store grains in an airtight container to retain freshness.

Cooked Forbidden Rice Storage

Refrigerator: Properly stored cooked forbidden rice lasts in the fridge for up to three days. Perhaps you may expect that rice can last longer, but rice could be exposed to Bacillus cereus spores, a type of bacteria that causes food poisoning, during processing. This disease-causing bacteria can multiply in temperatures as low as 40°F (4°C). Before transferring rice to the fridge, spread it in a thin layer on a sheet pan or a shallow dish and allow it to cool to room temperature, then transfer it to an airtight container. (It should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.)

Freezer: Cooked forbidden rice should maintain its quality in the freezer for six months. If you plan to freeze cooked forbidden rice, follow the same steps as you would for refrigerating it: Cool it off by spreading it thinly, then transfer to airtight freezer-safe containers and freeze within two hours.

Forbidden Rice Recipes

Forbidden black rice is another grain staple to add to your pantry, especially if you love its chewiness. Its deep purple hue sets a perfect background for dishes like our Coconut Black Rice Bowls with Tofu and Purple Asparagus. You can also serve it with your favorite entrees and stir-fries. Looking for a one-bowl type of meal? We have the perfect forbidden rice recipes for you—try our Gochugaru Shrimp & Black Rice Bowls and vegetarian Watermelon Poke Bowl. Add black rice to salads or use short-grain forbidden black rice to make sticky rice desserts and rice puddings—the culinary uses are endless!

You can also substitute black rice for other types of rice in your favorite rice dishes for a change. If you are used to white rice's fluffiness and find black rice to be a bit on the stickier side, you can always mix half white rice with half black rice for the perfect medium.

Bottom Line

No longer a forbidden food but a food for everyone, black rice is a nutritious and versatile whole grain that also boosts your meals' flavor and colorfulness. While it is prepared and stored the same way as brown rice, it offers additional nutrients, so it's worthwhile to add this deep-colored grain to your weekly meal rotations. Check out our forbidden rice recipe collection today for inspiration!

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