Rice is an important food staple that supports the nutritional needs of more than half of the global population. There are more than 40,000 different varieties of cultivated rice. From the aromatic Thai “jasmine” rice used in curries, to the “basmati” rice of India, each variety, or cultivar, is distinguished by its grain length, shape and colour.
Each cultivar also has its own flavour, texture and unique nutrient properties. Some varieties are higher in anthocyanins – antioxidants that protect the body’s cells from damage. These rice varieties are known by their colour – for example, red or black rice.
BROWN RICE is a whole grain with only the inedible outer hull removed. Brown rice naturally contains more nutrients than white rice, including double the amount of dietary fibre and substantially higher magnesium, iron, zinc and B group vitamins, including folic acid. It also contains polyphenols and flavonoids – types of antioxidants that protect the body from stress.
BLACK RICE – also called purple rice due to its colouring – can be a short, medium or long grain and has only the outermost layer (inedible hull) removed for consumption. The bran and germ remain intact, similar to brown rice, making it a high fibre food.
Black rice is high in anthocyanins. In fact, black rice contains the same antioxidant type that gives “superfoods” like blueberries and blackberries their deep purple colour. It’s been called one of the healthiest rice choices due to its protective effects for heart health and metabolic diseases.
RED RICE. Similar to black rice, red rice is a medium or long grain variety coloured by its anthocyanin content. The difference in colour compared to black rice types is due to the amount and type of anthocyanins (specifically catechins and epicatechins) in red rice. Red rice also contains more iron and zinc compared to white, black or brown varieties.
RICEBERRY. This is a type of rice, too. Despite the slightly confusing name, riceberry rice was originally developed in Thailand as a cross between a local jasmine rice and local purple rice variety, creating a lighter, purple-coloured grain. It has a more favourable nutrient profile than brown rice and has a shorter cooking time similar to that of white jasmine rice.
RICE IS NOT JUST EMPTY CARBS
Rice has many nutritional benefits besides providing the body with carbohydrates – its primary fuel source. Rice contains more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals including folic acid, magnesium, iron and zinc and is naturally gluten free, making it an appropriate substitute for people living with coeliac disease.
Brown, red and black rice are all whole grains, recommended as part of a healthy eating pattern.
In addition, different cultivars of rice have a low glycaemic index or GI – a measure of the speed at which carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels. Generally speaking, the more colourful the rice variety, the lower its GI. This is a particularly important consideration for people living with diabetes.
Whatever the colour, all types of rice have a place in a balanced diet.
– Edited excerpts from the article, “Brown, Red, Black, Riceberry – What are These White Rice Alternatives, and Are They Actually Healthier?” in The Conversation (24 October 2023)