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What is purple rice?

Beautifully hued and packed with nutrition, purple rice is an ancient heirloom rice with origins in Asia. Its grains are inky black in color when raw. As it cooks, the grains turn a deep iridescent purple.

Also known as black rice, forbidden rice, and emperor’s rice, legend has it that purple rice was originally reserved exclusively for China’s ancient emperors. This may have been because of its appearance or rarity. Purple rice was a difficult crop to grow, and it may have been less available as a food source than other types of rice.

Like all rice species, purple rice originates from Japanese rice and is technically a type of grass seed. Its cultivation can be traced back as far as 2500 B.C. The darkly-colored grains may have been the result of a mutated rice gene.

Purple rice is available in two forms — as a long-grained, jasmine rice, and as sticky (glutinous) rice. Both forms are gluten-free.

It may have an interesting history and unique look, but purple rice’s real value is nutritional, not aesthetic. Nutrients in purple rice include:


Purple rice’s color is created by a flavonoid called anthocyanin pigment. This same pigment gives blueberries, eggplants, and other healthy fruits and vegetables their deep color. Anthocyanins are phytochemicals found in plants.

They may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. A powerful antioxidant, anthocyanin has been linked to reducing cases of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. One study linked purple rice to cancer prevention in rats.


Sticky purple rice is a whole grain, meaning the outer bran layer is intact. This makes it high in fiber, as well as slightly nutty in flavor. Fiber is important for regular bowel movements and overall bowel health. Fiber may also help with losing weight and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.


Purple rice is a good source of protein, making it an excellent addition to a vegetarian diet. Protein helps reduce muscle loss by helping the body build and repair muscle tissue. It also helps with cell growth and keeps bones strong.


Purple rice is a significant source of iron. Iron is a mineral that is necessary for helping to make red blood cells and transport oxygen. It also supports the transmission of nerve impulses, which control body movements. Without enough iron, anemia can result.

There are about 200 calories per 1/3 cup of sticky purple rice. However, the calorie count may vary by brand. Brown rice has about 82 calories per 1/3 cup. Like all other forms of rice, purple rice is gluten-free.

Like brown rice, purple rice is a whole grain. Most of the fiber and nutrients are contained in the bran and germ. White rice is a refined grain, meaning the bran and germ are removed. This makes it less nutritious.

From a nutritional standpoint, brown and purple rice are both preferable to white rice. However, enriched white rice has some of the nutrients put back in that were removed during processing.

All types of rice are rich in carbohydrates. People concerned about diabetes should opt for higher fiber options, which may reduce the impact carbohydrates have on blood sugar.

Purple and brown rice have similar amounts of fiber, but should only make up a part of the daily fiber requirements. The daily fiber recommendation is between 20 and 25 grams for women and between 30 and 40 grams for men. You should also include other types of fiber in your diet.

Purple rice usually has a higher iron content than brown rice. However, it can vary between brands, so be sure to read nutrition labels.

Neither brown or white rice contain anthocyanin pigments, the substance that gives purple rice its high antioxidant content. Brown rice contains antioxidants, but it may not have the same high levels as purple rice.

Both purple and brown rice may contain trace amounts of arsenic, a toxin that is absorbed from soil. Arsenic amounts are largely determined by where rice is grown. White rice has less arsenic contamination because its outer layer is removed. If you have concerns about arsenic in your rice, rinsing it several times prior to cooking may help to remove it.

Unless you’ve purchased prewashed rice, make sure to rinse purple rice three to four times in cool water before you use it. The water doesn’t have to be completely clear.

Bring 1 cup of rice to a gentle boil with 2 1/2 cups water. You can add 1 tablespoon of olive oil or butter, plus 1/2 teaspoon of salt, for added flavor if you choose. Purple rice can also be boiled in chicken stock, vegetable broth, or even coconut water for a sweeter taste.

Let the rice simmer in a covered pot until most of the water is absorbed, while stirring often for around 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered for an additional 5 minutes until the water is completely absorbed.

The rice will remain slightly crunchy in texture. For softer rice, cook for an additional 10 minutes with an extra 1/4 cup water over a low flame.

Purple rice can be used in any recipe that calls for rice of any kind, including stir-fries, rice balls, and stews. Delicious, healthy recipes to try include:

Persian cucumber and purple rice salad: This palate-pleasing dish is perfect for hot weather and crowds. It uses lemon, scallions, and coriander to complement the nutty taste of the rice.

Spicy miso-glazed chicken wings with purple rice and zucchini salad: This hearty dish supplies a spicy kick, thanks to its red chili glaze.