What Is Forbidden Rice?

Forbidden rice is one of several heirloom varieties of rice with a sometimes sticky texture and a deep purple color when cooked. This rice is also known as black rice or purple rice. Still a relatively rare kind of rice today, the imperial strains of black rice were once forbidden to anyone but Chinese royalty.

Forbidden rice can be steamed, although because it is a whole grain, it cooks more slowly than white rice. Many preparations play up its rarity in pilafs and pilaus prepared with other gourmet ingredients. Forbidden rice appears in rice pudding and other desserts and as an addition to sushi. In China, it can be made into black rice noodles and in California into a purple-tinted, whole-grain bread.

Varieties of black rice

At least 40,000 varieties of rice feed the world. Some of them are red or mahogany, and quite a few are black. Some black rice is grown from traditional stocks, but several new varieties have been bred in modern times to meet grower requirements and changing consumer demand.

Traditional Thai Jasmine Black rice has a subtle, intriguing jasmine scent. In Southeast Asia, it is often sweetened and served with coconut milk as a dessert.

Blanca Isabelle is an unusual, long-grain, purple rice. A high-yielding variety, this rice was developed through selective breeding by Milton C. Rush at the University of Louisiana and is grown in Louisiana.

Black Japonica rice is a mixture of short-grain black rice and medium-grain mahogany rice that is grown and harvested in California. The blend is called Japonica because the seed stock came from traditional rice farmers in Japan. The rice combines an unusual nutty taste and pleasant ombre appearance with the health benefits of rice that retains its bran.

Wild rice is black and delicious, but it is not forbidden rice. In fact, it is not even really rice. It is a related aquatic grass with black husks, an appealing firm texture and a taste like fresh-brewed tea.

Lotus Foods sells an organically grown, unrefined variety of forbidden rice online and in health-food stores.


Forbidden rice is sold as a whole grain, and therefore it contains more B vitamins than polished white rice that has had its outer layers removed. The rice is also high in potassium, iron, copper and magnesium.

Anthocyanin, which gives forbidden rice its dramatic color, also colors blueberries and purple grapes. It is a flavinoid, one of a group of food substances that promotes health and well-being by acting as antioxidants.

In the traditional Chinese system of herbal medicine, black rice is described as supportive for the kidneys, stomach and liver.


Forbidden rice was reserved for the Chinese emperor because it was exotic and unusual. It was also believed to promote his health and longevity. As a whole grain it was definitely healthier than white rice, and as a delicious rarity, it is still food fit for a king.

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