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Chak khao (black rice): a rare super food from Manipur


Having first originated in China, black rice, also known as forbidden rice, was a crop that was afforded only by the royalties and affluent people of those times. The right to consume black rice was reserved, by the royal families and the high officials.

Later, the cultivation of this forbidden rice traveled to other south Asian countries including India, in the state of Manipur. Now, this rice is a staple diet consumed widely within the state and it is called “CHA KHAO”, the name is often confused with the roasted rice tea brew from Meghalaya, which is known as “CHA KHOO” meaning (cha: tea and khoo: rice).

What is Forbidden Rice?

The rice belongs to the species Oryza Sativa L. since the more glutinous varieties of the rice, turns purple upon cooking; it is also sometimes called Purple Rice. It was once a reserved crop only accessible to a Chinese Emperor to ensure longevity and good health. The rice has a medium grain, is usually non glutinous, has a subtly sweet and nutty flavour and has a deep purple shade. The varieties for this include the Thai jasmine black rice and the Indonesian Black Rice. The rice is mostly cooked into a dessert for gatherings and feasts in the community in the state of Manipur and makes a great dessert which is not too sweet on its own. The grain is packed with antioxidants (higher than blueberries), iron and Vitamin E. the husk of the rice (which is the outermost layer) is one of the highest sources of anthocyanins found in other types of foods. The fiber content in the rice is similar to brown rice.

Indonesian Black Rice

When cooked it turns into a dark black color that is a result of the high anthocyanin content (anthocyanins possess anti-cancer, antimicrobial, ant diabetic and anti-obesity effects upon consumption). This hue and the subtle sweetness in the rice is what makes desserts such as porridge; Chinese black rice cake; breads and noodles stand out from other desserts.

Chinese black rice cake 

Black Rice Noodles

Where in the north east does Black Rice grow?

Harvesting Black rice

In the north east, one may find the forbidden rice grown primarily in the state of Manipur where the variety is that of glutinous black rice and is called “chak khao Amubi” which translates to “amubi: Black and chakhao meaning delicious” in this region. The rice is even protected by Geographical Indication (GI) which goes on to say that the black rice from Manipur is as OG as it gets.  Upon cooking the black rice turns a deep purple hue that tastes subtly nutty and sweet making it the best rice to cook with on festive occasions and large community gatherings. It is made into kheer, porridge, black rice cakes, puris, and many other varieties of dishes.

Historically however, the first black rice to have arrived in Manipur came in with the state’s first settlers. The grain was the and still is harvested using organic methods without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. To cook the rice efficiently, the rice is first soaked overnight.

The health benefits entailed within the black rice

There are a few very important health benefits that come with consuming black rice some of which are:

  1. The Anthocyanins present in the husk of the grains are known to have one of the highest levels of the compound compared to other foods with this pigment in them. The compound is known for its anti-microbial, anticancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-obesity effects. It is also helps reduce effects that lead to cardiac arrest in people. This it does by preventing the build-up of plaque in the artery walls by lowering cholesterol levels in the blood and the body.
  2. The antioxidant levels in the grain are high. This helps the boost in immunity levels which in turn helps the body starve off ailments and infections while also deleting toxins from the body.
  3. There have been some researches that suggest that consuming black rice keeps very serious and recurring diseases and ailments. It may even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and also helps cure cancer according to many studies.

Nurtitional Value of Black Rice

Did you know that black rice is a super food which is the kinds of foods that are high on nutrient density which makes it double or even triple the nutritional value compared to other varieties of the same food. It contains 18 different kinds of amino acids, along with carotene, copper and many other vitamins. The reason why black rice is considered as super food is because of the works of Dr. ZhiminXu in whose research work the chak khao rice has been compared to other super foods such as blueberries and other foods that contain the anthocyanin pigment. He states that,” A spoonful of black rice bran contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar, more fibre and Vitamin E antioxidants.”

The Amubi Chakhao is quickly making its place in the best cuisines internationally after having been long hidden and used only within homes of rural Manipur and surrounding states. We at NE Origins truly believe that someday the rice will find its place in many homes all across the nation while we reminisce a time when the rice was only reserved for literal kings and common folk could only but dream of what the rice tasted like.

There are a few top brands from the north east that produce some of the best quality Amubi Chak Khao grown in the state of Manipur. Some of this best quality Chak Khao rice is showcased on the NE Origins website. Do head to the site to buy yourself the first packet of the “forbidden rice” if you haven’t tried it already and do let us know in the comments section below how you liked “black rice”. We are pretty sure in no time you’d order a few more packets!

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