All varieties of rice, no matter what their color, are members of the grass family originally found growing in wild tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. (Wild rice, which grows here in Minnesota is not a true rice, but rather an aquatic grass). It is believed that rice may have been cultivated more than 4000 years ago in China, India and other Asian countries. Many people think of rice as being white, or sometimes brown. Rice is actually available in a stunning palette of shades, from white to brown to red, to a deep purple-black color. Surprisingly, there are about 40,000 varieties of rice, but only a handful are familiar to most Americans.
What is Black Rice?
Black rice is an heirloom rice, meaning that it is open-pollinated, was grown at earlier times in history, and is not grown on a large scale in modern agriculture. It is a short grain rice with a slightly nutty flavor, and its texture is smooth and firm-not at all sticky like most white rice.
The black "Emperor's" rice sold by Wilderness Family Naturals is grown in the northern provinces of the island called Luzon in the Philippines. It is grown by several hundred small farmers who have chosen to go back to traditional farming practices and raise heirloom rice, wild honey and other products almost forgotten by modern society. By choosing traditional foods, these farmers are able to more easily support their families because they are not competing with the big white rice companies or in the commodity market. Instead, they receive fair prices for their unique, traditional crops and because they co-op with hundreds of other small farmers, they are able to supply ample amounts for export to the United States. A non-profit organization, set up by the Philippine government collects the rice and wild honey. All the "fruits of their labor" are sold locally in the Philippines with one exception: the shipments that come to Wilderness Family Naturals.
What makes it Black?
Black rice has dark purple hues in its outer bran layer that are so intense the rice appears to be black. Once cooked, however, the color lightens into that same deep purple/violet found in blueberries. This dark purple color predominantly comes from anthocyanins which are flavonoids that perform as antioxidants in the body. Other than blackberries, blueberries, grapes and black raspberries there aren't a whole lot of dark purple foods out there, so when served with brightly colored foods, like red pepper or mango, this inky rice is absolutely stunning.
Cooking Tips for Black "Emperor's" Rice
Like other unprocessed rice, black rice takes longer to cook than husked and milled rice. Rinsing and soaking the rice before cooking will help to shorten the cooking time. As a general rule, black rice should be cooked with two cups of water for every one cup of rice, and it will need to cook for 20 to 30 minutes after soaking (soak for at least 2 hours prior to cooking) or 60 minutes if you cook non-soaked rice. Once cooked, leave the rice covered in its pot, but remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Then fluff it with a fork.
If you are cooking black Emperor's Rice with other ingredients and don't want the other ingredients to blacken:
- Cook the rice separately
- Rinse the cooked rice until no color bleeds into the water
- Then add it to the dish
When black rice is used in desserts, it is sometimes cooked with a mixture of coconut milk, sugar, and water to form sweet, sticky, purple pudding. The pudding can be decorated with fresh mango for a striking color contrast that creates a treat that is both beautiful and delicious.
Emperor's rice adds color and conversation to any meal. Black rice pairs beautifully with all cuisines and can be enjoyed in a pilaf, stir-fry or with salad. Try serving Emperor's rice next to a white fish or rosy salmon as the deep purple provides a beautiful contrast.