Forbidden rice? Yes, it was forbidden for common people, other than royal family or nobleman. Despite
its dark color and its nature as a cereal grain, it is highly appreciated as a medicine and symbol of status.
In the Empire of China, it was used as tribute for the Emperor and, yes, forbidden for peasants to eat it.
In Indonesian tribes, it is also used as tribute, as part of sacred rituals, or as part of medicinal recipe.
Toraja tribe in Sulawesi Island had black rice as special dish for the elders in certain sacred ceremony. It
is said that only a certain people are able to plant and process it into the dish. Even the child of the
elders are forbidden and the elders himself also forbidden to eat it in daily occasion. Sasak tribe in
Sumbawa Island had a special ritual for women, where menstrual period is thought to be sacred. They
are told to reside on a special house and treated with mask made of black rice. Some of elder Indramayu
folks that are descendants of Cirebon Kingdom still hold a taboo that common people are told to avoid
black rice. “For just having several grains littered in front of our home will cause a severe bad luck” said
Tamin, an old farmer in Jatibarang village. This kind of story can be found throughout the Indonesian
archipelago especially in native tribes’ villages.
Black rice itself contains unusually high concentration of miraculous ingredients. This may be the main
reason why it was highly prized by the locals. Antioxidants, flavonoids, and melatonin, are some of the
natural goodness inside the black bran of this rice. When it is sprouted, it will produce even better grain.
Higher antioxidants, higher vitamins, higher minerals bioavailability, higher fibers and new compounds
like GABA (Gamma aminobutyric acid). Not too difficult to be dubbed as superfood.
Anthocyanin, cyanidin, peonidin are some of the healthy antioxidant compound found in black rice.
Antioxidants are undoubtedly rare nutrients in modern over processed foods, while our modern busy
life contradictorily demanding more antioxidant intake. Bad diet, stress and pollution will increase free
radicals in our body, eating healthy cells and leave our body prone to diseases. Eating natural foods high
in antioxidants is beneficial for our health and it is widely known already. Black rice is a cheap yet
delicious way to put natural goodness into our body. Just try to compare its antioxidant content with
another source like blackberries or grapes.
Fortunately for us, we don’t need to be a prince or elders of the tribe to gain beneficial antioxidants
from the black rice. It is now accessible to everyone and had cultivated more widely than before. While
this wholegrain is more susceptible to spoiling than usual white rice, vacuum packaging is enough to
preserve its freshness longer. Proper drying and packaging are also could preserve its goodness without
over processing that destroys its beneficial content.
Black rice is as safe as usual rice yet as powerful as another superfood. You can eat it as daily basis or
just supplement your regular diet. No worry about overdosing. Cook as regular rice or made into any dish. Or just boil in water and make a delicious antioxidant drink. The rice is so fragrant that many palates don’t prefer it as white rice replacement, so mixing white and black rice would be good. As the black rice is not sticky enough, it would not make a good textured rice pudding.
It is recommended to soak the black rice prior to cooking to avoid anti nutrient called phytic acid. Phytic
acid is naturally found in grains, beans and nuts. It acts as mineral binder in our digestive tract,
preventing proper mineral intake and would cause bone problem in long term. However, cooking itself
could reduce the amount of phytic acid in black rice so actually we don’t need to be scared of this thing.
But soaking is still beneficial that this living rice would ‘get up’ and producing more and more beneficial
compound. Unlike white rice that has been polished and the germ removed, or touted as ‘dead rice’,
black rice is still living in dormant state, waiting for enough moisture to start sprouting. Japanese people
is known for their ‘Hatsuga Genmai’ tradition that literally means sprouting rice. Sprouted rice is highly
appreciated, not just because tradition but also because of its tremendous health impact.
Black rice may yield lower than usual white rice. And also need longer period of cultivation. While white
rice farmer may harvest twice a year, black rice farmer is only once. But the price of the black rice is
almost five times so this would not only compensate the farmer’s income, but also giving farmers more
time to grow another plants. And because the black rice doesn’t need any chemical fertilizers or
chemical pesticides, the initial cost is significantly lower. Minimum tilling and intermittent irrigation is
another advantage that reduces the labor and cost, maximizing farmer’s gain.
Not all black rice is created equal. Some of them had more antioxidants than the other. One of the
highest antioxidant-containing varieties is Javanese ‘Jowo Melik’ which is cultivated mainly in Jogjakarta
region. It cultivated for six month prior to harvest, made it one of the longest rice variety. Usual rice
variety is cultivated for just 100 days, almost half the black rice lifespan. This kind of rice doesn’t
respond well to synthetic fertilizer, as the chemical urea could boost the growth prematurely, yielding a
weak stem and empty grains. Farmer wouldn’t try to give synthetic fertilizer to black rice. And chemical
pesticides are also almost useless because black rice’s robust stem containing some bitter compound
that repels pests from eating too much. The only notable pest is birds, that never be controlled with any
kind of chemical pesticide. Keeping the ricefields unsprayed with chemicals means keeping natural
ecosystem. This heirloom variety had to be kept safe to maintain natural biodiversity. The nature of
Jowo Melik black rice makes it good for Mother Nature, good for farmers, and also good for our health.
Have a good enough reason to try black rice?