London: Black rice, revered in ancient China, could be the greatest `superfood`. Low in sugar, the grain is packed with healthy fibre and plant compounds that combat heart disease and cancer, say experts.
Scientists from Louisiana State University analysed samples of bran from black rice grown in the southern US and found it boosted levels of water-soluble anthocyanin antioxidants, reports a newspaper.
Anthocyanins impart dark hues to fruits and vegetables, which includes blueberries and red peppers and also turn rice `black`.
Research suggests that anthocyanins, which mop up harmful molecules, can help protect arteries and prevent the DNA damage that leads to cancer.
Food scientist Zhimin Xu said: "Just a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar, and more fibre and vitamin E antioxidants."
"If berries are used to boost health, why not black rice and black rice bran? Especially, black rice bran would be a unique and economical material to increase consumption of health-promoting antioxidants."
It is occasionally known as the `Forbidden Rice` because Chinese nobles forbade common people from eating it. Today black rice is mainly used in Asia for food decoration, noodles, sushi and desserts.
But food manufacturers could potentially use black rice bran or bran extracts to make breakfast cereals, beverages, cakes, biscuits and other foods healthier, said Xu.
When rice is processed, millers remove the outer layers of the grains to produce brown rice or more refined white rice - the kind most widely consumed in the West.
Brown rice is said to be more nutritious because it has higher levels of healthy vitamin E compounds and antioxidants.
But according to Xu`s team, varieties of rice that are black or purple in colour are healthier still.