The next big food fad is black rice bran

Meet the hot new food fad -- black rice bran.

How would you like something with more anti-oxidants than blueberries for dinner tonight?

If you're health conscious, sure you would. So meet the hot new food fad -- black rice bran.

Zhimin Xu of LSU (right) used his standard procedure -- chemical constituent analysis of grains for General Mills' Bell Institute -- and found a spoonful of black rice bran contains more anthocyanin antioxidants than a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar, more fiber, and more Vitamin E.

It costs a lot less, too.

Xu also found the pigments in black rice may be healthier than current artificial food coloring, and can be used to produce a wide variety of colors.

He suggested black rice bran could also be used to boost the health characteristics of manufactured foods like cereals and snack cakes. (I'm thinking Ding Dongs.)

Xu presented his findings last week at a meeting of the American Chemical Society and the reaction was immediate. The CBS lede was a bit misleading though -- it's the bran that packs the punch, not the rice itself.

Black rice is really just brown rice with a different pigment. The bran is the key.

There are several varieties, including a strain imported from China by Lotus Foods as "forbidden rice." There is also an American variety offered by Lundberg Foods of California called Black Japonica.

Arkansas, however, is America's biggest rice producer, with California and Louisiana a distant second and third. Xu's aim seems to be to boost black rice production in the Southeast. His aim appears true.

As an ingredient black rice is said to be very sticky with a rich flavor, similar to Italian arborio. That makes it useful in pudding, which Chinese people eat for breakfast or dessert.

There are also savory recipes with it, as it plays well with things like ginger, star anise, and diced red pepper. Some chefs even make risotto with it, saying it holds up better on a steam table than white rice risotto.

It's easy to get confused here, because there are also Mediterranean dishes dubbed "black rice" which actually use white rice with squid ink.

Real black rice looks black in the store, after the inedible husk is removed, and Xu's research points to cooking it as is, just like brown rice.

As with brown rice, your Asian rice cooker may have some problems with it -- they're set for white varieties. (Brown rices also don't travel quite as well as white rice, which is why the bran was removed in the first place. Store yours in the refrigerator.)

Expect a rush for this ingredient at your Asian market, but the key to Xu's research is that black rice bran has many uses as a "secret ingredient" in other foods and as a unique food coloring.

This makes his research big news for the American rice farming industry, which can now open up new markets with food processors and manufacturers that did not exist before. Geaux Xu kid.

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