Black rice: the food of the wealthy

A lovely chicken and mushroom risotto made with black rice.

It’s lovely to have foodie friends, since they are inclined to give one intriguing foodie gifts.

My friend Ann Coetzee travels a lot, and her love of food and cooking leads her to seek out interesting ingredients wherever she goes.

Ann bestowed upon me one kilogram of black rice the other day, and my research revealed a fascinating tale.

Also known as forbidden rice, it became so-called because of its rarity, and in ancient times, the natural outcome was that only the rich could afford to eat it.

Science tells as that all rice cultivars originate from a single rice planting some 10 000 years ago in China, but from whence cometh black rice?

A 2015 study by a team of Japanese researchers concluded that black rice originates from Japan, specifically through cross breeding of the rice variety tropical japonica, and it subsequently spread to the indica sub-species.

The conclusion is that it occurs naturally as the result of mutation, but its yield is low – of the order of 10% of other rice strains – which means it will be expensive.

But why is it black? Because of high concentrations of anthocyanin, the flavonoid pigment found in red grapes, and in all red, purple or blue fruit and vegetables, for that matter.

Anthocyanin is also super-rich in anti-oxidants, making black rice healthier than white rice.

For the record, brown rice isn’t lightly coloured black rice. White rice is brown rice with the husk removed, that’s all.

Black rice can be sticky like Arborio rice, which is best suited for risotto because of high levels of amylopectin, and the bag which Ann gave to me, ended up in a really lovely black rice chicken and mushroom risotto.

Black rice is delicious. Earthy and nutty in flavour, it is similar to brown rice, but more intense, with a texture very similar to white rice, and the colour is to just die for.

Black rice is available from a number of Asian supermarkets, and it is well worth tracking it down.

Ingredients, selection and preparation

1 1/2 cups (375ml) black rice

5-6 cups (1250ml to 1500ml) chicken stock

250 g Portabellini mushrooms: sliced

250g chicken breast: cubed

1 medium onion: peeled and finely chopped

1 clove of garlic: crushed

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup (125ml) dry white wine

1 1/2 cups (375ml) finely grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chiffonaded basil

salt and pepper to taste


Make your stock first, and put it in a small saucepan on the stove to keep warm.

Heat the olive oil in a large, flat saucepan and fry the mushrooms for about five minutes. Add the chicken and fry until just cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add a bit more oil if needed, and fry the onion until soft, about five minutes.

Stir in the garlic, and cook for a minute.

Add the rice, and stir well to coat it with oil. Fry for about a minute.

Add the wine and fry over medium-low heat, stirring all the while, until the liquid is absorbed, about three minutes.

Ladle in a 3/4 cup of stock, and cook, stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat until the rice is cooked through and has a pasta-like al dente “bite”, which should take 45 to 50 minutes.

Add back the chicken and mushroom and stir in gently.

Add a cup (250ml) of the Parmesan cheese and stir it in evenly.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and set aside, covered, for five minutes.

Divide between four bowls. Top with the balance of the Parmesan and the basil. Serve with a chilled, crisp white wine.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4