Brown, red, black, riceberry: What are these white rice alternatives, and are they actually healthier?

By Yasmine Probst, Karen Zoszak and Olivia Wills

Throughout history, rice has remained an important food staple. It supports the nutritional needs of more than half of the global population.

While you might be familiar with a handful of types, there are more than 40,000 different varieties of cultivated rice – a testament to the diversity and adaptability of this staple crop.

Rice, much like other grains, is the edible starchy kernel of a grass plant. In fact, the vast majority of rice varieties (although not all) belong to just one species – Oryza sativa.

If you have ever found yourself at the supermarket, overwhelmed by the number of rice options available, you are not alone. From aromatic Thai “jasmine” rice used in curries, to the “basmati” rice of India and the sticky “arborio” for making creamy Italian risotto, each variety, or cultivar, is distinguished by its grain length, shape and color.

Each cultivar also has its own flavor, texture and unique nutrient properties. To make things more complicated, some varieties are higher in anthyocyanins – antioxidants that protect the body’s cells from damage. These rice varieties are known by their colour – for example, red or black rice.

What is brown rice?

Compared to white rice, brown rice is a whole grain with only the inedible outer hull removed. It is largely grown in India, Pakistan and Thailand.

To make white rice, the bran (outer shell) of the grains is removed. In brown rice, the bran and germ (core of the grain) are still intact, giving this type of rice its tan color and high fibre content. Brown rice naturally contains more nutrients than white rice, including double the amount of dietary fibre and substantially higher magnesium, iron, zinc and B group vitamins, including folic acid.

Brown rice also contains polyphenols and flavonoids – types of antioxidants that protect the body from stress.

It is often sold as a longer grain option and has a similar nutty flavor to black and red rice cultivars, though some chefs suggest the texture is slightly chewier.

Fancy black rice

While not as common as other varieties, black rice – also called purple rice due to its coloring – is high in anthocyanins. In fact, black rice contains the same antioxidant type that gives “superfoods” like blueberries and blackberries their deep purple color.

The Oryza sativa variant of black rice is grown primarily in Asia and exported globally, while the Oryza glaberrima variant is native to and grown only in Africa. Among black rices there are also different shades, from japonica black rice, Chinese black rice, Thai black rice through to Indonesian black rice.

With its antioxidant properties, some would argue black rice is one of the healthiest choices due to its protective effects for heart health and metabolic diseases.

Black rice can be a short, medium or long grain and has only the outermost layer (inedible hull) removed for consumption. The bran and germ remain intact, similar to brown rice, making it a high fibre food. Black rice has been described by some foodies to have a mild nutty and even slightly sweet flavor.

Iron-rich red rice

Similar to black rice, red rice, or Oryza rufipogon, is a medium or long grain variety coloured by its anthocyanin content. Interestingly, it is considered an edible weed growing alongside other rice varieties and primarily grown in Asia as well as Northern Australia.

The difference in color compared to black rice types is due to the amount and type of anthyocyanins (specifically catechins and epicatechins) in red rice.

Red rice also contains more iron and zinc compared to white, black or brown varieties. The anthocyanins found in red rice are used as a pigment for coloring other foods such as liquor, bread and ice cream.

Is riceberry a type of rice, too?

Despite the slightly confusing name, riceberry rice was originally developed in Thailand as a cross between a local jasmine rice and local purple rice variety, creating a lighter, purple-colored grain.

Increasingly available in Asian grocers across Australia, this type of rice has a more favorable nutrient profile than brown rice and has a shorter cooking time similar to that of white jasmine rice.

Rice is not just another carb

Rice has many nutritional benefits besides providing the body with carbohydrates – its primary fuel source. Rice contains more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals including folic acid, magnesium, iron and zinc and is naturally gluten free, making it an appropriate substitute for people living with coeliac disease.

Brown, red and black rices are also whole grains, recommended as part of a healthy eating pattern.

In addition, different cultivars of rice have a low glycaemic index or GI – a measure of the speed at which carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels.

Generally speaking, the more colorful the rice variety, the lower its GI. This is a particularly important consideration for people living with diabetes.

Less frequently consumed rice varieties have nutritional benefits, including their anthocyanin and fibre content. However, they can be harder to find and are often pricier than more common white and brown varieties.

If you enjoy trying foods with unique flavors, try experimenting with black or red rice varieties. Whatever the colour, all types of rice have a place in a balanced diet.

Yasmine Probst is an associate professor, University of Wollongong; Karen Zoszak is an accredited practicing dietitian, PhD Candidate, University of Wollongong; and Olivia Wills is an accredited practicing Dietitian, PhD candidate, University of Wollongong.

The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

© The Conversation

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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The black rice that I purchased in Japan is a rich dark purple that it looks black. It is also extremely expensive. According to legend in China, only royalty or its equivalent was allowed to consume it.

It can also be extremely sticky like molasses, I suggest once it is finished cooking to immediately remove and place into a stain resistant container then clean the rice cooker/pot, or attempt to use to type of paper based container to place in the rice cooker to avoid making contact with the inside of the rice cooker or pot.

Another possibility is to place another rice inside the rice cooker first with the black rice on top not allow it touch the border of the rice cooker/pot.

It is delicious!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I like all 3 rices. I do not buy white rice and only eat it when I do not cook the meals. I eat mostly brown with red second and occasional black. I also sometimes mix in quinoa with my rice.

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*Compared to white rice, brown rice is a whole grain with only the inedible outer hull removed. *It is largely grown in India, Pakistan and Thailand.

To make white rice, the bran (outer shell) of the grains is removed. In brown rice, the bran and germ (core of the grain) are still intact, giving this type of rice its tan color and high fibre content.

What does this even mean?

It states that essentially brown rice is White rice with the bran and germ intact.

It also states Brown rice is largely grown in India, Pakistan and Thailand.

Does that mean most other countries rice is not "Brown" before polishing???

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I try not to eat white rice, brown or black rice is better for my gut, and certainly not good for diabetic or pre-diabetic diets. It seems to me though that Japanese people eat pretty much only white rice as their staple, and I've not heard of diabetics being a serious issue in Japan? What else is in their diet to stave off diabetics?

Having said that I wish that Japanese restaurants would offer brown or black rice as an option, but I get that it's cheaper to just have white rice in their meals.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There are dishes where only white rice works, like sushi and curry. Prefer brown rice which we eat with 16 grains. Also, I prefer whole wheat bread but sometimes white bread can be good. I like black rice from Nepal when I can find it.

I've not heard of diabetics being a serious issue in Japan?

Except it is.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I do like the purple sticky rice and red bean rice with tempura.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Except it is.

Thanks, I'll look it up and do some research.

Is there a dislike of anything but white rice by the Japanese, or is that another misnomer?

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Brown rice is available in our local stores. Guess people buy it. We do.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

In Japan, Brown rice that hasn't gone through the process of polishing is generally more expensive than processed White rice.

Almost no one I know eats brown rice and if they do they blend it with white like a 80% W to 20% B type of thing.

My family only eats Brown sourced from sister-in-laws farm, except when making sushi.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We eat 100% brown rice.

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I have tried other rice than white rice, and as an occasional break, I've tried a lot of other rice. But I keep eating white rice for the most part because, well, it goes with everything I eat. For my taste, it's the RICE.

Just sayin'.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Brown rice has a stigma as it is a reminder to the children of the WWII of the their hard times. White rice is to represent prosperity because it was more expensive to eat polished rice. They passed that stigma on to their the children and grandchildren.

Ironically, that brown rice is how they survived because it provides actual vitamins or minerals. White rice has no nutritional value.

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In our location you can buy 25 kg of brown rice and if you wish use a machine in a kiosk to polish it and make it white rice.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

We buy rice in 50 kg batches. Our staff does the polishing as we don't trust machines.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Elvis is here

We buy rice in 50 kg batches. Our staff does the polishing as we don't trust machines.

I don't think you know what I am talking about since in Tokyo there are no rice polishing kiosks. Have you ever seen one?

Why would you buy a 50 kg bag for a very small family? How can "your staff" polish rice without a machine?

You don't trust machines but have boasted many times about a fully fitted western kitchen full of all the machines you need.

In the kiosk, you can only use 30 kg max.

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Japan’s Changing Diet: Rice Relegated to One Meal a Day and Affordability Wins over Taste

"With an increasing range of food options available, Japanese people today are eating rice at meals less frequently, with many preferring bread for breakfast, noodles for lunch, and only having Japan’s traditional staple in the evenings."

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Bran and germ in brown rice can irritate the digestive tract so it's not for everyone.

With an increasing range of food options available

I've noticed over the years, cheese is becoming more present in Japanese cuisine.

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