I learned a couple of new things over the weekend. The first is that there are heirloom varieties of rice. I thought the heirloom term only applied to vegetables, but I was wrong. I also learned that black rice is an heirloom variety of rice that has been getting a lot of attention lately for its health properties.


Black rice, known also as "forbidden rice" or "Indonesian black rice," is unmilled rice. Unmilled rice in general is healthier than milled rice. When rice is milled, the outer layers — the bran and the germ, are removed. Those outer layers contain a wealth of nutrients that are lost in the popular milled, white rice that most people eat.


A recent study done at Louisiana State University found that black rice has the same anthocyanin antioxidants as blueberries and blackberries, two foods that are usually held up as antioxidant powerhouses.


WebMD reports the study found that "a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health-promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful or blueberries, but with less sugar and more fiber and vitamin E antioxidants."


Anthocyanin antioxidants are those that are reported to fight heart disease, cancer, bad cholesterol and other diseases.


Another promising finding from the study is the potential to use the pigments extracted from black rice as natural food colorings. Black rice when it is dry looks black. When it is soaked and cooked, it produces a variety of colors from pink to black. These pigments could be extracted and used as healthier alternatives to artificial food colors.


Here are a few recipes for black rice to get you on the road to incorporating this healthy food into your diet.


Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Disease-fighting black rice
“Forbidden rice” is a powerhouse of antioxidants and nutrients.