Black rice was once forbidden in China not because it looked unusual but because it had such high nutrient value that it was only reserved for the consumption of royalty. Today, black rice is vastly domesticated in North East India, Bengal, Jharkhand, and Odisha, and is treasured for its medicinal properties. Commonly known as Chak-hao, it forms the centre of Manipuri celebratory feasts.
Medical research has shown that Black rice is a clear winner in the rice category—it contains more protein than white or even red rice, and more antioxidants than any other variety of rice. It is known to be an effective remedy for inflammation and helps in protecting the body from cancer. Besides protein and dietary fibre, black rice is also rich in iron; this makes it a great choice for vegetarians and vegans, who must rely on vegetables and grains/legumes for their source of iron.
The phytochemicals found in black rice contribute to the maintenance of heart health by managing good cholesterol and keeping the bad cholesterol in check. For those suffering from cardiovascular disease, therefore, this becomes a sensible choice. The fact that black rice contains high levels of dietary fibre also mean that it is a complex carbohydrate; this in turn means that it enters the blood stream very gradually and does not allow sugar levels to spike. This makes it a natural choice for diabetics as well.
Cooking with black rice, however, is still uncommon and most of us tend to be intimidated by this unusual ingredient—how does one cook it? How will it taste? Will the family eat it? These are valid concerns, so here’s a ready reckoner:
- Black rice takes a little longer to cook as compared to white rice because it is not robbed of its outer skin or bran (fibre), which is slightly tougher to penetrate. However, this is not vastly different from cooking brown rice, which also takes slightly longer to cook; so, if you have cooked or eaten brown rice, you should not be afraid of black rice at all.
- It is always a good idea to soak the black rice in water for a10-15 minutes before you cook it. If you want to make a soft rice to go with daal or curries, you will need to cook 1 cup rice in 3 cups of water (a pressure cooker will help). If you’re looking for an al dente rice to use in salads and suchlike, use twice the amount of water.
- Black rice pairs very well with coconut milk—use diluted coconut milk to cook your black rice for a soft and creamy consistency, which will pair excellently with Thai-style curries or coastal Indian curries and daals.
- Add black rice to soups for texture and substance. It will cook as the soup simmers and develops flavor.
- Kheers and puddings are an obvious choice—play around with spices or the kind of milk you use (dairy/coconut/soy/nut) or even the sweetener. Consider adding a sliver of turmeric or pandan leaf while the pudding cooks to give it a new fragrance.