Considered to be a superfood by US scientists, black rice has been modified at the Titabar Agricultural Rice Research Station in Jorhat to make it softer and easier to cook even while retaining its essential nutrient value.

The Titabar RARS which mainly deals with rice research, under Assam Agricultural University, has also successfully increased the yield in 15 low-yielding black rice varieties which is likely to reach farmers in a year or two.

Black rice (Oryza sativa L. indica) varieties are rice varieties with purple coloured pericarp.

Black rice has high anthocyanin content located in the pericarp layers, which gives it a dark purple colour.

It is also rich in antioxidants. Black rice has been used in various traditional medicines and recently many researchers have reported that they have several health benefits.

Dr Sanjay Kumar Chetia, principal scientist at the research station said that black rice, jam-packed with protein, flavonoid phytonutrients and also a rich source of antioxidants, had still not become a daily dietary intake by the population as it had to be soaked for hours before cooking and even after being cooked had a hardness at the core.

Moreover, it also had a glutinous quality not preferred by many.

“The traditional black rice has lower amylose content (10-15%), and hence turns sticky when cooked. For this reason, consumers do not prefer black rice for normal consumption, rather it is preferred only on special occasions.

“Therefore, at Assam Agricultural University an attempt was made to produce black rice varieties with an amylose content of around 20%, it was successfully achieved and the improved lines were produced while keeping all other qualities intact,” he said.

“We have successfully modified the crop to make it as soft as the white rice, removed the glutinous characteristic while retaining all the essential nutrients,” he said.

Chetia said that in Asian countries, black rice is often consumed after mixing it with white rice to enhance its flavour, colour and nutritional value.

It also contains high protein, total essential amino acids, vitamin B1 and minerals – Fe and Zn.

“Though black rice contains some calories, it offers a high amount of flavanoid phytonutrients and important fibers. Black rice is a good source of plant-based protein, which is hard to find for plant-based eaters who rely on grains and legumes for protein. According to one study, a spoonful of black rice bran provides the same amount or more anthocyanins than a spoonful of blueberries,” he said.

Chetia said that effort is on at the RARS to develop a high yielding black rice variety with similar quality traits as the traditional black rice.

“The programme is in advance stage and 15 high yielding black rice lines have already been developed. The lines will reach farmers within a year or two,” he said.

There is the availability of a diverse array of purple coloured rice in Manipur and all the purple coloured rice usually called Chakhao are scented and glutinous in nature.

The black scented rice (Chakhao) of Manipur has its importance due to its aroma and is a dark purple colour which is used for the community feast as well as ceremonial purposes as a delicacy.

The literal meaning of Chakhao is delicious rice (Chak-rice; hao-delicious).

“Black rice has great future potential; its bran is applicable in the food industries, as a natural food colouring, in the production of beverages and in pharmaceutical industries. It has the potential of export to the international markets as it may be considered one of the superfoods,” Chetia said.

Chetia further said that flavour was of primary importance in specialty rice and the superior flavour increased consumer’s satisfaction.

“Aroma and taste are the most critical quality traits considered by Indian consumers and flavour is one of the most important acceptance factors considered by the Asian consumers in the United States,” he added.

In this regard, Chetia said that flavor was composed of taste and aroma while the aroma was conferred by volatile compounds emanating from cooked rice. In the aleurone layer of black rice, there is a presence of the pigments, reported to contain acetylated procyanidin, anthocyanins and other phenolic compounds.

“Anthocyanins are the major group of secondary metabolites believed to play an important role in plant function, plays an important role in both food industry and human nutrition.

“Anthocyanins are regarded as potential food colourants used to replace synthetic colourants. Recently, due to the antioxidant activity of anthocyanins, they have been recognized as health-promoting food ingredients and anti-cancer, hypoglycemic, and anti-inflammatory effects,” he added.

Smita Bhattacharyya

Smita Bhattacharyya is Northeast Now Correspondent in Jorhat. She can be reached at: triptyaddy@gmail.com