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Black Rice

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Rice, Noodles, and Other Grain Foods

Fall Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(3) page(s): 5, 8, and 9

Chinese mythology about the origin of rice advises that people acquired rice as a gift from an animal. This tale is of a tail, and it took place in an era when many people were starving. The story is that many people saw a dog coming at them through the fields. They noted long seeds hanging from its tail. While some folks did grab its tail and eat the seeds, others though hungry thought ahead and planted some or all of them. It is from these seeds that rice grew, and their forever-hunger abated.

This myth does not discuss where this happened or when, nor does it indicate what color or kind of rice this was. There is no notion if it looked brown, white, read, purple, or black. All of these are natural rice colors when cooked, only purple rice does not exist raw as it is then a blackish-brown. Rice gains not only come in many colors, they come in many sizes, long or short, thick or thin, or in between any and all of these.

There are some eighty thousand varieties of rice, half that number in China alone. All are not popular, nor do even half of the people know about half of them. In China, the least known and least used rice is Chinese black rice. It is a short grain glutinous rice. Contrary to what some web and print sources say, this rice, and all glutinous rices, have no gluten. That is correct, glutinous rice does not have any gluten. Those who have celiac disease, and because of that condition, their intestinal villae do not allow them to properly absorb gluten, can eat glutinous rice.

Though we could not find where glutinous rice acquired its name, the assumption is that it is, like gluten when wet, very sticky. Wheat flour has lots of gluten, and the gluten in it when wet and heated provides structure to foods. That is why, with a leavening agent, breads rise and when heated (baked) hold their shape. With or without a leavening agent, rice can not make nor can it hold a structure or shape because it has no gluten.

Chinese black rice is sometimes called Fortune Rice. It is also known as Emperor’s Rice. It gets these names because it was rare and was used as a tribute food. In early dynastic times it was given to the emperor and stayed popular as a tribute food through the Tang Dynasty which began in 618 CE and into the Sung which started in 960 CE. It was used earlier, but since ordinary people did nor, should nor could not eat it, it also had the name of Forbidden Rice. In later times, it was known as Lover’s Rice as the thought was that it sticks two lovers together for life.

In early days, even though only the emperor and his court were allowed to eat this black rice, some young folk did sneak and eat it. However, it was not until later when it became generally available to the masses that this rice gained some protocols. For example, it was customary to consume this black rice in the fourth lunar month and on Sweeping the Graves Festival Day, which is the eighth day, and on holidays when courting was common practice.

Black rice was known long before Chinese dynastic times. During the Warring States Period (476 - 221 BCE), a different tale of its use was told. One General Sun Bin was caged, reasons unclear, and he survived because he ate black rice balls. In Hangzhou, where this General came from, they honor him by eating black rice on the first day of Chinese summer.

Black rice, and all rices are in the family of grasses called Gramineae. World-wide, the most consumed members of this family are Oryza satvia. There are more than twenty-five species of this Oryza variety, most are indica, followed by japonica, and then the javanicca varieties. To an expert, they all look different, cook differently, and taste differently. Those eaten with their hull or seed coat taste nuttier then those that are polished and have the exterior hull removed by milling. World-wide, most rice is polished and most rice consumed is long-grain. No matter how prepared and even before cooking, Chinese black rice is different. It is very short, quite fat, and rarely polished. And when cooked, it tastes nuttier than any other rice.

Chinese black rice is black on the outside and black on the inside. Not all black rices look that way. For example, Black Japonica, a trade-name rice, is black and sometimes brown on the outside; it is almost white under the hull or seed-coat. Thai rice looks similar raw, and when cooked both look more purple, their seed-coats coloring the rice. Chinese and other Asian cultures often use these purple rice varieties, mostly for sweet dishes. The grain is thinner and longer than Chinese black rice, and like it, they too, are glutinous rices. In China, this purple-cooking rice is grown on the banks of the Yangzi River. It is rarely called black rice, and most often known as Thai rice or purple rice.

Chinese black rice, and most glutinous rices are exceptionally high in amylopectin, and if cooked too long they disintegrate. That may be why Chinese black rice is never milled and always cooked with seed coat or hull in tact. Traditionally, this black rice was steamed in a bamboo tube for two hours. Nowadays, it is boiled for about forty minutes or steamed for an hour. No matter how cooked, immediately after cooking, it is best to leave this rice sit for about twenty minutes to absorb any remaining water; this allows the grains to separate.

Chinese black rice is a grain food eaten frequently by many Chinese population groups, particularly those in and around the Yunnan Province, where lots of it is grown. People like it because it has a sweet flavor. They also like that it remains chewy and has a starchy taste. Some like it because it does not need to be washed, though many recipes suggest doing so.

Aside from its use as a dietary or grain staple, Chinese black rice is used to make black vinegars, particularly those of the Zhejiang variety from that region of China. You may recognize that vinegar when not transliterated into pinyin; then it is spelled Chekiang. This type of black vinegar has been compared to balsamic vinegar. However, it is not aged in oak barrels, just in ceramic jars. Chinese black rice is also used to make many different kinds of wine. Almost all of these wines are delicately scented. They are excellent for drinking and for cooking.

As in the case of almost all foods, Chinese black rice has medicinal value; some folkloric, as well. One is that consuming Chinese black rice frequently means keeping one’s hair dark, black, and shiny. Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) doctors recommend Chinese black rice for their elderly patients. They say it increases their appetite and is a good treatment for digestive disorders the elderly are prone to. In addition, they recommend using it as a diabetic preventative. For anorexics, they suggest stir-frying black rice because it helps reduce that condition. For everyone, they suggest black rice to tonify and keep blood dark red and increase qi. For this, they suggest cooking it with loquats and sweet potatoes. However, they also say to avoid this kind of rice when suffering from a ying kidney deficiency disease.

For the elderly, TCM practitioners recommend cooking one cup of glutinous white rice for half an hour; and in another pot, cooking one cup of Chinese black rice for the same amount of time. While still hot, they say to combine both and a cup of hot peeled cooked chestnuts, a teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Cover the pot and wait twenty minutes before serving. This rice recipe can be reheated many times in one day.

Western medical research says the black pigmented rice husk has antioxidant of anti-inflammatory value. They find it scavenges free radicals and also suppresses low-density lipoprotein molecules, the so-called bad fat cells. Many on-going studies are seeking new uses for black rice and its seed-coats in neutraceutical and functional food formulations. In the meantime, enjoy yours in food preparations. There are many wonderful ways to prepare Chinese black rice; a few follow for your pleasure.
Lover's Rice
2 cups Chinese black rice
2 cups glutinous white rice
2 Tablespoons corn oil
2 Tablespoons corn oil
1/2 pound cleaned and shelled medium shrimp
1 cup green peas
3 eggs, beaten until much lighter in color
1/2 cup minced scallions, green part only
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1. Cook black rice covered in one quart of simmering water for forty minutes. Turn off the heat source and leave covered for ten more minutes.
2. In another pot, cook white rice covered in one quart of simmering water for forty minutes. Turn off the heat source and leave covered for another ten minutes.
3. Heat the first batch of corn oil in a wok and combine and stir-fry both rices for two minutes. Then remove the mixed rices from the wok and set aside. Rinse and dry the wok.
4. Heat the second batch of oil in the wok, add shrimp, peas, and beaten eggs and stir for one minute before adding the scallions, soy sauce, salt, sesame oil, and the rice mixture. Stir-fry these for two minutes, then turn off the heat and allow this dish to rest for ten minutes before serving it.
Black Rice Balls
1/2 pound pork, minced fine
4 Chinese mushrooms, soaked in warm ater for half hour, then remove stem and mince fine
2 scallions, white part only, minced fine
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dark or mushroom soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Chinese black rice
1 teaspoon corn oil
1. Mix pork, mushrooms, scallions, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt and form into one-inch meat balls.
2. Put rice on tray and roll each ball in it until completely covered.
3. Oil a plate and put rice balls on it, spacing them half-inch or more apart. Use two or three steamer racks, as necessary.
4. Bring steamer filled with two inches of water to the boil, set one plate on each steaming section and steam for forty minutes. Remove the plate(s) of steamed rice balls and let rest for ten minutes, then serve.
Sweet Potatoes, Black Rice, and Ginger
1 cup Chinese black rice
4 teaspoons corn oil
1 cup minced scallions
2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons minced crystalized ginger
2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into half-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1. Bring two cups water to the boil, add rice, cover and reduce heat and simmer for forty minutes, turn off the heat and allow to stand for ten minutes.
2. Heat corn oil and fry scallions for five minutes, then add both types of ginger and the sweet potatoes and stir-fry for five minutes more.
3, Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper and the sesame oil, and cover until the rice is ready.
4. Mix rice and sweet potato mixture, let stand covered for ten minutes, toss again, then serve.
Black Rice in Lotus Leaf
2 cups Chinese black rice
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine, preferably black
1/2 teaspoon black vinegar
1 cup cooked chestnuts, each cut in four to six pieces
1 cup cooked lotus seeds
4 black mushrooms, soaked, stems removed, and quartered
1/4 pound cleaned and peeled medium shrimp, each cut in half
1/4 pound pork, cut into half inch cubes
1/2 cup whole water chestnuts, each cut in quarters
2 large lotus leaves, soaked for fifteen minutes
1. Cook rice in simmering water or steam it for forty minutes, then partially cool it.
2. Mix soy sauce, sugar, wine, vinegar, chestnuts, lotus seeds, mushrooms, shrimp, pork, and water chestnuts, then add the rice and mix well.
3. Place lotus leaves one on the other lining a heat-proof bowl large enough to hold all the other ingredients. Put the rice mixture onto the lotus leaves, do not pack down, but do not leave air spaces, either. Cover the rice mixture with the overhanging pieces and put a small heat-proof plate on top of the lotus leaves that are covering the rice mixture.
4. Steam over rapidly boiling water for one hour. Then remove bowl and invert it on a serving platter, and then remove the bowl. Take a scissor and two inches from top, cut around the lotus leaf packet, set it askew, and place this on the table. When ready to serve, remove cut lid, and serve using a large serving spoon.
Black Rice Congee
1 and 1/2 cups black rice
1/2 cup white glutinous rice
10 dried longans
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup evaporated milk or coconut milk (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
1. Bring twelve cups of water to the boil add both black rice and white rices, lower the heat and simmer covered for one hour. Then turn off the heat, add the longans, and let sit covered for another hour.
2. Mix sugar, salt and cornstarch with two tablespoons cold water, and stir into the rice pot. Reheat and stir until thickened. Add the milk, if using it, and the eggs, and stir. Then serve.

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