Black rice, also known as “emperor’s rice” or “forbidden rice” is one of the earliest, life sustaining, crops known to mankind.
Some of the earliest records of rice cultivation date back to around 150 B.C. To this day, rice cultivation is so important that in many parts of the world the phrases “to live” and “to eat” are synonymous with the phrase “to eat rice”.
That is because, according to TheWorldHealthiestFoods.org, over half of the world’s population derives the majority of its daily calorie needs from rice, a crop that is available year round.
Rice plays such an important role in Asian cultures that in several Asian languages the words “rice” and “food” are identical. Therefore, it is not surprising that a host of ceremonies and legends, deeply rooted in the heart of these ancient cultures, revolve around the planting and harvesting of rice.
Of these ancient Asian cultures, the Chinese are the ones who have played the biggest role in the cultivation of rice. Chinese records of rice cultivation date as far back as 4,000 years ago. In fact, it is a little known fact that it was the Chinese who first introduced rice to India, before the time of the Greek empire.
Legend of The Forbidden Rice
One of the most interesting legends surrounding rice is that of black rice, AKA “The Forbidden Rice”. Legend has it, that in China there was a special, heirloom variety of rice grown exclusively for the emperor. This variety of rice was the rice we know today as black rice or “emperor’s rice”.
Black rice was cultivated in small amounts, in specially designated fields, by highly trusted servants and its seeds were guarded day and night. It was strictly forbidden for anyone, but the emperor, to consume this variety of rice.
The reason black rice was so highly valued, and closely guarded, by the Chinese emperors was because in ancient Chinese medicine, which relies heavy on the philosophy “food is medicine and medicine is food” black rice is seen as a main source of good health and longevity.
In ancient days, black rice was viewed as the mystical source of the emperors’ good health and longevity and was consumed as a tonic. Therefore, anyone caught cultivating or consuming this rice was believed to be sabotaging or “stealing” the source of good health and longevity reserved especially for the emperor and thus was punished, severely.
History of Black Rice
Luckily, times have changed and no one will be punished today for consuming black rice.
Though highly popular in Thailand and Indonesia, black rice is not a stable source of carbohydrates in most rice-consuming cultures such as the Indian culture, and the Arabic and Persian cultures. That is mostly due to the fact that the Greeks banned the cultivation, importation and consumption of black rice when they conquered the Middle East because they believed that the consumption of this food helped their enemies in battle.
They did not however, ban white rice, which they deemed worthless. As a result, India, one of the largest exporters of rice to the Middle East, both then and now, stopped cultivation of black rice due to lack of demand. Therefore, white rice replaced black rice as the dominant source of carbohydrates in all Middle Eastern cultural cuisines. Due to events such as these, black rice, a food once highly reveled by the world’s most powerful figures, faded into oblivion.
Health Benefits of Black Rice
Though there is still a lot we do not know about the health benefits of black rice, a series of scientific studies have labeled it “The Long-Lost Superfood”, a treasure house of antioxidants, fiber, nutrients, minerals and amino acids capable of combating and preventing a host of health problems ranging from cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to Alzheimer’s. Apparently, the emperor’s of ancient China were right.
The Following is a List of The Recently Discovered Health Benefits of Black Rice:
- A Rich Source of Antioxidants: The black, outer layer of this rice, contains antioxidant-rich bran. The purple and reddish pigment of this rice, which gives it its black appearance, contains Anthocyanins, the same antioxidants found in such prominent superfoods as blueberries, Acai berries and grapes. But, according to Dr. Zhimin Xu, Ph.D., an associate professor at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, in Baton Rouge, “black-rice bran has an advantage over blueberries, because blueberries still contain a high level of sugar.” Best of all, according to Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, “Some antioxidants in brown rice are fat-soluble, while Anthocyanins are water-soluble and can therefore reach different areas of the body.”
- May Help Prevent Heart Attacks: In 2008, a group of scientists studied the effects of Anthocyanins on the heart. This study, which was published in the Journal of Nutrition and used mice as its primary source, concluded that Anthocyanins are capable of preventing the progression of atherosclerotic plaques, the main cause of most heart attacks, in the main arteries of the heart. The study also established that Anthocyanins play a key role in lowering triglycerides. Most astonishing of all was the finding that Anthocyanins are just as effective in lowering cholesterol levels as the prescription drug Simvastatin, a drug used to lower cholesterol levels.