Black rice – revered in ancient China but overlooked in the West – could be one of the greatest "superfoods", scientists believe.
The cereal is low in sugar but packed with healthy fibre and plant compounds that combat heart disease and cancer. It was known as "forbidden rice" in ancient China because only nobles were allowed to eat it. Today black rice is mainly used in Asia for food decoration, noodles, sushi and desserts.
"Just a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health-promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar, and more fibre and vitamin E antioxidants," said Dr Zhimin Xu the food scientist who led the research.
"If berries are used to boost health, why not black rice and black rice bran? Especially, black rice bran would be a unique and economical material to increase consumption of health-promoting antioxidants."
Bran is the hard outer coating of a cereal grain. When rice is processed, millers remove the outer layers of the grains to produce brown rice or more refined white rice.
Research suggests that plant antioxidants, which mop up harmful molecules, can help protect arteries and prevent the DNA damage that leads to cancer.
Food manufacturers could potentially use black rice bran or bran extracts to make breakfast cereals, beverages, cakes, biscuits and other foods healthier, said Dr Xu, from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, US.
The scientists presented their findings yesterday at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.