Black Rice: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on August 31, 2022
4 min read

Black rice is that rare trifecta of delicious, healthy, and aesthetically pleasing. This dark-colored rice, which is a deep purple-black, has alternate names including purple rice, forbidden rice, and emperor's rice. It has a rich, complex flavor, with a distinct nuttiness and a hint of sweetness from the anthocyanin pigments.

Oryza sativa is the cultivated form of wild rice, and it has been part of Asian culinary culture for the last 7,000 to 9,000 years. Historical evidence shows that cultivated rice first appeared in China and spread to other regions across Asia. This cultivated rice came in a range of colors, including red, brown, white, and black due to natural changes in the rice grain's outer layer. Wild rice was only one color: red. 

Over time, some cultures began favoring certain colors, crossbreeding them to get rice grains with steady coloration. Black rice was favored for its rich taste, and it quickly became a special food for wealthier groups. This is how black rice earned one of its names — forbidden rice. There was a time in China's history that black rice was forbidden to all who weren't noble or royalty.

Today, there are two varieties of Oryza sativajaponica, which is stickier and short-grained and grows in drier, upland fields, and indica, which is long-grained and grows in submerged, lowland fields. 

You see varieties of black rice everywhere from Thailand and Indonesia to China, Japan, and India. This rice also grows in countries all across the world. Some varieties are short-grained, and some are long-grained. Long-grained rice is slightly healthier since it has less starch, giving it a lower glycemic index.

This colorful black rice offers a variety of health benefits. One of the most noticeable comes from the deep color of the grain. 

Anthocyanins are pigments found in a variety of blue and purple foods, and they help to protect your cells against damage. These pigments are also known for reducing inflammation and helping reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions. Eating black rice can give you a worthwhile boost on your heart health and overall fitness. 

Black rice also provides these health benefits:

Improved Eye Health

Along with protective anthocyanins, black rice contains high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids known for their role in supporting eye health. These antioxidants help to protect the cells in your eyes and to reduce the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. 

Diabetes Management

Flavonoids like anthocyanins also influence blood sugar levels and diabetes management. Phytochemicals have a positive influence on your body, improving insulin sensitivity so you can better use glucose. They also help by reducing sugar digestion in your small intestine, which lowers sugar levels in your blood.

Black rice is rich in amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidants, flavonoids, anthocyanins, and other phenolic compounds. There are 18 amino acids in black rice, with a mix of essential and non-essential types. Amino acids are crucial to many of your body's functions, from helping repair skin and tissues to improving your energy levels and digestion.

Black rice is also a good source of the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin E
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Beta-carotene
  • Lutein
  • Zeaxanthin
  • Calcium
  • Chromium
  • Phosphorus
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Magnesium

Nutrients per Serving

A quarter-cup of black rice, which measures 1/2 cup when cooked, contains:

  • Calories: 173
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 38 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 1 gram
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Sodium: 4 milligrams

Things to Watch Out For

Black rice, like all rice, can contain arsenic absorbed from the soil. To reduce your chances of eating arsenic, rinse the dry rice before cooking it. You can also cook the rice in excess water and drain off whatever the rice hasn’t absorbed by the time it’s considered “cooked.” This method does require more monitoring, though, to ensure you don’t overcook the rice.

Black rice is becoming more common in supermarkets around the world. Once you have a package of dry black rice at home, review the instructions for the water to rice ratio. You can steam the rice, boil it in water, or cook it in a pressure cooker, such as an Instant Pot, for a hands-off approach. 

When cooked, black rice naturally has a chewier texture than other types of rice. It is not as smooth as white rice, but it is much more nutritious. You should expect black rice to require more water for cooking. 

Try one of these black rice recipes for your next meal:

  • Make a black rice risotto with artichokes.
  • Swap white rice with black rice for your rice bowl, and add mango, avocado, and berries. 
  • Enjoy a black rice gratin with porcini mushrooms and broccoli.
  • Combine coconut milk, mango, and black rice for a delicious rice parfait.
  • Make some Thai chicken and black rice soup.
  • Use black rice and a touch of honey for a healthy and sweet rice pudding.