Globally, over 40,000 varieties of rice are cultivated, according to the Rice Gene Bank. Rice comes in all types of sizes and colours – and each variety has its own distinctive taste and aroma. While rice can be categorised in different ways – by colour, size, length, aroma, cultivation process – one of the most common ways of identifying rice is by its colour.
One of the reasons colour is the most common way of sorting rice types is because it is the most obvious. Typically, rice comes in 3 colours, brown, red and black (or purple/dark blue). Each of these is grown in different parts of the world. There could be different varieties of rice within the same colour, and each colour-type can be further categorised by the place it comes from, it shape and size as well as how it is used. Most importantly though, the colours of the rice impart various nutritional benefits to the rice – let’s find out more about this!
On the inside, all rice is white. It is the rice bran that gives different types of rice their colour. Once the bran is removed, as it is during the process of hulling or milling, the endosperm is always white. This is the white, polished rice that we normally eat. Depending on how well the rice is polished, the rice grains may retain most, some or none of the colour of the bran. However, it is the bran that contains most of the vital nutrients, including minerals, anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals, and different coloured rice grains have different nutrients to offer.
This is the most common type of rice that is available and cultivated in India. Brown rice comes across all the varieties we commonly know – basmati, ponni, rajabogham, surati kolam – but it may not be readily available across these types. Brown rice is available in two types – with the husk intact and with the husk removed. The former type is richer in nutrient value, high on fibre but takes much longer (upto an hour to cook) and isn’t easily digested by everyone. The latter type is slightly lesser in nutrient value but is easier to cook and digest. Brown rice is rich in minerals like manganese, selenium, phosphorous, copper as well as vitamins B1, B3 and B6 and many essential fatty acids. Most of these nutrients are lost partially or even completely when brown rice is polished to white. Most importantly, brown rice has a very high glycemic index – meaning it keeps you full for longer – helping you lose weight and maintain healthy blood sugar and insulin levels
While not as common as brown rice, red rice is still grown in some parts of the world – particularly Africa and Asian countries like Bhutan, Thailand and India. In India, it is grown in the Palakkad region of Kerala and called Red Matta or Rosematta Rice. Another red rice variety called Rakthashali is also grown in the country but is extremely rare. Red rice gets its colour from a substance called anthocyanin – which is a powerful antioxidant. In fact, red rice contains almost 10 times as many antioxidants as brown rice. It is also a rich source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorous and molybdenum – all very vital for your body’s routine functions. To add to that, red rice has a wonderful nutty flavour and aroma that brown rice lacks and can be used to create wonderful recipes.
Black rice is perhaps the rarest type of rice available. Typically grown in Asian countries like Japan, China, Thailand and even in some East-Indian states, at one time it was considered so rare and exquisite, that only the royals were allowed to eat it in China! The black coloured grains turn to dark blue or purple upon cooking and sometimes can be sticky (glutinuous). Black rice has far more anthocyanins than red rice, and therefore much more antioxidant power. It is in fact one of the richest foods for antioxidants in the world. It is also a great source of iron, vitamin E, B1 and B2 as well as trace minerals.
Keeping the bran intact on rice grains ensures that the health benefits associated with the colour of the bran are transferred into the human bodies. Not only that, coloured rice adds a great element to our regular recipes and cuisines, opening up our palates to new tastes and ideas!