What is Red Yeast Rice?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Red yeast rice is a type of rice which is fermented with yeast, giving the rice a distinctive color and flavor. In addition to being used for culinary purposes, red yeast rice is also believed to be beneficial medically, specifically contributing to lowered levels of cholesterol. Asian markets sometimes carry this rice, in a variety of forms, and it can also be purchased at some health food stores and through companies which supply ingredients used in alternative medicine.

Red yeast rice is used for culinary and medical purposes.
Red yeast rice is used for culinary and medical purposes.

In fact, the chemicals in red yeast rice are so similar to some prescription drugs that the American Food and Drug Administration has considered regulating it, out of concern that people might not use the rice responsibly. Several studies have been conducted on this rice to learn more about what it contains, and the yeast used to make the rice, Monascus purpureus, has even been used to manufacture some statins, or cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Nursing mothers and pregnant women are advised to avoid eating red yeast rice.
Nursing mothers and pregnant women are advised to avoid eating red yeast rice.

This rice is made by husking and polishing regular rice and then fermenting it with the yeast, allowing a thick red to purple crust to develop on the rice. Once the rice has been fully fermented, it can be processed in a number of ways. Some companies pasteurize and wet-pack their rice, while others may dry the rice. It can also be pureed, or turned into an extract which is used as a food supplement.

Red yeast rice has been used to manufacture some cholesterol-lowering statins.
Red yeast rice has been used to manufacture some cholesterol-lowering statins.

Historically, red yeast rice has been used to add color to many Asian dishes, taking advantage of its naturally red appearance. It is also prepared and served just like regular rice, to accompany a wide range of dishes. The rice has a slightly earthy, fermented flavor which some people find quite enjoyable. Red yeast rice and its extract are also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to lower cholesterol and treat intestinal complaints.

Studies conducted in the West have shown that this kind of rice does indeed lower cholesterol when consumed on a regular basis, although purified statins and other drugs are probably safer and more effective. However, it seems to have little impact on stomach health or cardiovascular conditions, getting a grade of “C,” which suggests “unclear scientific evidence” to support these uses. Because red yeast rice can potentially have an impact on cholesterol, people who plan on consuming a lot of this rice may want to consult their doctors to ensure that it is appropriate for them; the rice is also considered potentially dangerous for pregnant and nursing mothers.

Red yeast rice and its extract are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat intestinal complaints.
Red yeast rice and its extract are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat intestinal complaints.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Submariner- I was in Taian a few years ago and I just wanted to add that many of the regional dishes used red yeast rice in the food. In some situations, the rice was actually prepared to be eaten with a meal. In other experiences, I have eaten red yeast rice flavored foods that, as you said, had a fairly subtle flavor.

I think the overall flavor would be similar to what the Japanese refer to as Umami. This flavor is often referred to as the fifth sense and refers mostly to foods with glutamates added. The flavor is a combination of savory, ever so slightly sweet, and somewhat slippery on the tongue. It is a unique flavor and all of the health benefits are simply a bonus.


@Istria- The reason you may find a red yeast rice vitamin with added Coenzyme Q10 is because it is very important to the health of the body's organs, specifically the heart and brain. Coenzyme Q10 aids in the production of ATP through the acceleration of electron transfers.

ATP as you may remember from college chemistry or o-chemistry is that ATP is the essential energy source for cells in the body. The lack of Coenzyme Q10 production and the ensuing lack of ATP production are largely responsible for many degenerative diseases; such diseases as atherosclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, and keratoconus, all diseases closely related to high cholesterol. Think of ATP as essentially being the body's metabolism regulator. CoQ10 helps the body stay young and healthy and is a great compliment to red yeast rice.

I am not sure that CoQ10 is the fountain of youth, but it has been shown to help people with different metabolic diseases. You may want to consider taking a combination of a high quality CoQ10 gelcap, mercury free omega fatty acid capsules, and red yeast rice pills as a supplement regimen to improve cardiovascular health.


What is red yeast rice CoQ10? How do these two vitamins interact, and what exactly do they do for you? I told a friend my doctor said I had slightly elevated cholesterol levels, and he said that red yeast rice with CoQ10 would help reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol before my next follow up with my doctor.

Is this stuff worth taking? Will it really work to lower cholesterol, or is it about as effective as oat cereals? Is red yeast rice CoQ10 the same as just plain red yeast rice, or is CoQ10 something else entirely?


I have had red yeast rice in authentic Chinese food and it is delicious. The rice adds incredible color and flavor to anything it is cooked with. My friend, who is from China's Fujian province, had my wife and me over for dinner and cooked chicken and duck with red yeast rice.

He was telling me all about the health benefits of incorporating red yeast rice into the diet, most of which has already been discussed or written about in this article. I have to say, the food he prepared was delicious. The flavor was very subtle yet complex. It is a taste that is definitely hard to describe. None of the dishes actually contained rice in the sense one would normally think of rice. Rather they contained ground red yeast rice that was toasted in a pan before mixing with oil and spices to coat the meat with.


@Parmnparsley- I know that you have to be careful with consuming grapefruit products when taking red yeast rice. Grapefruit can react with a number of drugs, including the statin drugs that red yeast rice is related to. Red yeast rice helps control cholesterol levels very well, but grapefruit can cause your body to uptake more of the active ingredients in red yeast rice. The grapefruit effect makes a dose larger than the recommended dose and it can cause the amplification of side effects as well.


@Parmnparsley- I would advise your husband to talk to some sort of medical practitioner whether traditional or alternative before starting a red yeast rice supplement-or any supplement regime for that matter. Red yeast rice works similar to statins, thus sharing similar side effects. The usual side effects (minor side effects) are things like upset stomach, headache, heartburn, mild dizziness, and light-headedness.

The major side effects to look out for are dark or infrequent urination; any type of allergic reaction; or muscle pain, weakness, and fever. Like statins, red yeast rice can be damaging to the kidneys. The supplement as well as other cholesterol drugs can cause skeletal tissue breakdown that can lead to kidney failure or damage.

All that being said, red yeast rice can be an effective treatment for high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides. If you are trying to go a more natural route in combination with changes in diet and exercise, red yeast rice may be a god choice. I know people who have tried the red yeast rice treatment before committing to taking drugs and ended up not taking the drugs at all. They did, however; still coordinate their naturopathic treatment with regular monitoring by their doctors.


What are the most common red yeast rice side effects? My husband is thinking about taking this to help balance out his cholesterol. I do not know much about red yeast rice so I was hoping I could turn to the web for answers. Does anyone have any experience with red yeast rice?

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