by Sarah Pope MGA | Affiliate links

Red rice is a whole grain that is becoming more widely available across the world. Its popularity is on the increase as well.

While many people (me included!) assume at first glance that it is hybridized, the truth is that red rice has heirloom origins from more than a millennia ago.

Red Rice History

Anthropologists believe that red rice was first cultivated by humans during the Tang Dynasty which began around 800 AD. Doctors during this period utilized it to facilitate the healing of health issues related to the blood. Improvement of digestion is another common medicinal use of red rice in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

In Asian cuisine, red rice served as a natural food coloring. In some parts of China it was a dietary staple, favored over both polished and brown rice. (1)

Interestingly, red rice is not native to China. The primary species, Oryza punctata and Oryza longistaminata, are grasses from tropical Africa, including the island of Madagascar.

Like heirloom wild rice, it grows in shallow waters of various kinds and thrives best in either clay or sandy soils. Due to its reputation as a noxious weed in non-native areas, it is sometimes referred to as weedy rice.

So, how did a wild annual grass end up being cultivated for the first time in China, thousands of miles away? The answer to this is likely the Silk Road. This ancient network of trade routes allowed for the flow of goods between East and West. It dominated the cultural interaction between these regions from the Han dynasty (207 BCE) to the early 1700s.

Red Rice vs Brown or White

When you first taste it, red rice has a decidedly nutty flavor. In my opinion, the flavor is even more pronounced than brown rice.

Hence, if you are a brown rice lover, you will definitely want to try it!

If you prefer white rice, however, you may find the texture and flavor of red rice off-putting. Because it is unpolished, the earthy taste and al dente feel on your tongue may prove undesirable, even when thoroughly cooked.