Black rice is a type of dark-colored heirloom rice originating in southeast Asia. This dark purple to black grain is usually a glutenous variety, but some growers also sell medium to long grain products. This rice is usually sold in Asian groceries or in specialty food stores, and is often labeled as a health food due to its anthocyanin content. In order to select the best black rice, look for grains that are even in size and shape, with a relatively consistent color and few broken grains. Avoid very dusty bags or rice that has been stored in direct sunlight or near a heat source.
Also known as forbidden rice, Indonesian black rice, and Italian black rice, this grain has a distinctive dark purple layer of bran on the outside and is always eaten unmilled, unlike ordinary white rice. Black rice was originally grown in Indonesia and China, but has since spread to rice-growing parts of North America and Europe. Most varieties of this rice are short-grained and extremely starchy, similar to “sticky” or “sweet” glutenous rice, but a few growers have developed medium to long grain black rice hybrids.
You can find black rice in southeast Asian groceries, where it is sold for decorative use along with jasmine rice, or as an ingredient in some Thai and Indonesian desserts. Because of the grain's high levels of anthocyanin and other antioxidant compounds, health and specialty food stores in North America and Europe also offer this dark-colored grain, but usually at a much higher price per pound. While conventional white rice is often sold in bags up to 20 or 50 pounds (9 to 22.6 kg), this specialty grain usually comes in 1 to 5 pound (0.45 to 2.26 kg) packages.
When possible, choose clear plastic bags through which you can see the rice, or ask the store owner to show you a sample of the brand that you wish to purchase. Whether short or long, the grains should be a consistent size and shape for even cooking, with a smooth surface and relatively little color variation between grains. This rice can vary from a very dark plum color to brown or nearly black, but should never be light brown or faded-looking. Avoid bags with a larger percentage of broken grains, as these will cook faster and be mushier than whole rice. If you see a large amount of dust at the bottom of the bag, the rice has probably been poorly-handled.
This unmilled rice should always be stored in a cool, dry place to prevent the rice oil in the bran from going rancid. White rice has a lower nutritional content than unpolished rice; it stores for longer and can survive harsher conditions. Buy only rice that has been stored away from windows or heat sources, and keep your own supply in a cool, well-ventilated cabinet on a shelf out of the sun and away from the stove, or even in the refrigerator.