Black Rice and its Nutraceutical Value : Dr Pritish Chowdhury

Introduction :

World-wide well known as  Medicinal Rice, the black variety of rice is currently gaining considerable importance as a potent nutraceutical because of its numerous health benefits.  This black  rice also falls under Oryza sativa L. family like most of the white or slightly brownish rice varieties generally we use as our staple food.  The rice has been used as a potential health booster in China since ancient times.

Composition

This middle sized glutinous or sometimes non-glutinous rice with little bit nutty flavour has been found to be loaded with higher level of protein and the mineral iron  along with zinc, calcium, phosphorus and selenium than common varieties of rice. Black rice has also been found to contain  potential amino acids, viz., lysine, tryptophan; and vitamins such as B1, B12 and folic acid. The most interesting feature of its composition is that the rice is loaded with a very high amount of plant pigments because of which it is very deep violet in colour rendering its black appearance. These pigments include a class of potent antioxidants of anthocyanin, flavonoid  and beta carotene family generally not  found in any of the  rice varieties we generally consume. In fact those type of pigments are generally present in coloured fruits and vegetables  we eat. Because of this the rice has been currently regarded as one of the richest source of Anthocyanin class of antioxidants.

Origin and Propagation

According to Rice experts, thousands of years ago this black rice variety has been originated for the first time in China. Though many experts suggest that the rice in fact was originated in Asian countries including Japan too.  Hence the rice is known as Asian Rice as well. 
At one time  black rice was rare and in China it was reserved for emperors and other royal families. At that time the production of the rice was low . The production yield was about  10%  only than that of normal rice varieties through cultivation. The rice, in fact, was unaffordable to the common people .  From that point of view, the black rice  was termed as “ Emperor’s Rice” or “ Forbidden Rice”. Of course that scenario changed slowly with time when it propagated to different countries with increased production yield with the development of agricultural science.

The puzzling question  was how the plant pigments present generally  in coloured fruits and vegetables as mentioned  are  transmitted to rice ?   Agricultural scientists believe that this might have happened due to the gene mutation in a particular variety of rice.  A research group from Japan studied the genetic basis evolving this trait in rice. They postulated that it happened due to the rearrangement or mutation in a gene called Kala 4 which activated the production of Anthocyanin class of pigments in a variety of rice.  With passes of time it propagated  through the process of cross breeding with other varieties of rice. The scientists have recognised two  separate branches, viz.,African and Asian origin black rice which propagated in due course of time with varying sizes and textures.   

Today we find black rice in different countries. In USA the rice is known as “Wild Rice” and marketed as a potent nutraceutical. Currently, various parts of India and south-east countries like Indonesia and Thailand etc are earning revenues through cultivation of this black rice. Interestingly, since very long time the  people of the state of Manipur of NE India are consuming this rice as a health promoter through its various traditional preparations.  They call this black rice as Cha-hao. Reports on cultivation of black rice in some parts of Assam  too  appeared recently in some news media.

Nutraceutical value :

Black rice already has created a niche in the field of nutraceuticals. In view of this, the demand for the rice is increasing day by day in international market.  From ancient times, in China the black rice is recognised as an excellent food for our blood and overall health. This is because of the fact that the rice contains higher amount of iron and all other nutrients including protein, amino acids, vitamins and other minerals as mentioned above regarding its composition.

The importance  of antioxidants in our body is at present known to most of us. These compounds in fact destroy the most reactive and harmful free radicals generated continuously within our body.  Free radicals are responsible for damaging the healthy cells of different organs of our body including heart, brain and eyes etc. triggering the disease  of heart, dementia or Alzheimer’s syndrome, eye sight problem and even cancer. Thus antioxidants present in black rice can prevent us from all these ailments.

Further study suggests that the antioxidants present in black rice can lower the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides in our arteries and thus keep our heart healthy and strong. In fact, diet containing black rice lowers the risk of plaque formation considerably in our arteries preventing heart attack.

Being gluten ( a kind of protein) free along with all those antioxidants, essential proteins, minerals, amino acids, vitamins and  dietary fibers, black rice is a super food for gluten allergic people with celiac disease of small intestines.

Black rice has also been found to work in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A study on rats confirmed that when  black rice was added to their high fat diet, the deposition of  less amount fats in their liver was observed.

In an another report,  the black rice was found to reduce blood sugar in type2 diabetic patients. However, more research  are still going on in this line.

Black rice is found to be excellent for our eye health. Its antioxidant compounds protects retina and its vital part Macula from free radical attack. Besides, two pigments of beta carotene family, viz., lutein and Zia zanthine present in black rice are also two essential components of the vital macular region of the retina of our  eyes to keep our vision in order. Hence this nutraceutical property of black rice helps to prevent Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a dreaded disease of the eyes.

Conclusion:

Health is wealth. And also Prevention is better than Cure. Long long ago these statements are rightly justified by Hippocrates, known as father of medicine who said “Let food be thy medicines”. Keeping in mind all these facts, in the present era of fast life and fast food, it is high time that we take adequate measures in our food habits to keep us fit and healthy. Because of the potent nutraceutical  properties, black rice might be a good option to add in our diets along with greens and fruits. Black rice can be consumed in many ways, viz., as an ornamental rice, salad dressings, desserts and traditional preparations. When cooked with milk, it provides a beautiful violet coloured delicious sweet dish loaded with all those vital ingredients as discussed in the article.

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