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December 4, 2010

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'Home of black rice' makes its mark

A pilot project to grow black rice in Hengzhao Village is turning into a success as farmers are reporting a bumper harvest this fall. This "rice of longevity" is more nutritious than plain rice, writes Tan Weiyun.

It's a bumper harvest this year for farmers in Hengzhao Village, Jinshan District. The tiny village near Hangzhou Bay is forging ahead to become the "home of black rice" in Shanghai and even the Yangtze River delta region.

"Some farmers in other suburban districts are growing black rice, but mostly in their backyards or on a small plot of land. No one in the city was doing it on such a large scale until us," says Gu Guoliang, director of the village's Taihao Rice Association, which was established two years ago.

The black rice harvest totaled 25,000 kilograms on the village's 23.6 hectares of rice paddies this autumn.

"It was such a great surprise to us that the rice sold so well after reaching the market," the director says. Within the first week more than 1,500 kilograms was sold and orders are flooding in these days.

Hengzhao began growing black rice as a pilot agricultural project two years ago. The seeds were provided by the Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

"Most of the black rice available in Shanghai has been transported from north China for years because it requires complicated technical support and has a relatively low yield," Gu says.

Every 666.7 square meters of land can produce 325 to 350 kilograms of black rice or more than 600 kilograms of regular rice.

"The black rice straw is much softer than plain rice, thus making it easy to fall and break when it's windy," the director says. "If grown improperly, the 666.7-square-meter yield might drop to less than 100 kilograms. It would be a very huge risk for farmers."

With the help of the local agricultural station, farmers learned to grow the crop in a scientific way. The rice association has more than 30 members, all villagers specializing in growing black rice.

"Now we've found our own way to plant the rice and we are going to enlarge the planting area next year to meet the rising market demand," Gu says.

The Hengzhao black rice sells for 100 yuan for 4 kilograms while the different types of plain rice sell in a range between 16 and 56 yuan for 4 kilograms.

The SAAS provided the seeds, which can grow into sheer black or dark purple. Glutinous and a little bit dry, the rice has a smooth and even refreshing taste.

"When compared with black rice from northern China, our rice is blacker and glittering with its natural luster," Gu says, proudly. "The northern black rice is not as glutinous or moist as ours."

Black rice has been crowned the "Rice King" because it is more nutritious than regular rice. Black rice contains: protein, fiber, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, mineral salt, amino acid and many others. It also contains Vitamin C, chlorophyll, anthocyanidin and carotene, all of which aren't found in plain rice.

A recent study in the United States found that black rice has more antioxidants than blueberries. It has been nicknamed "loyal rice," "medical rice" and "rice of longevity."

It is even regarded as a medicine widely used in traditional Chinese medicine.

According to TCM, black rice can promote people's appetite, strengthen the spleen, warm the liver, brighten the eyes and invigorate blood circulation. It is greatly beneficial to women who have just given birth and patients who have had surgery.

"Boiled to make soup, steamed with rice and soy beans, sautéed with oil or ground into powder, black rice can be cooked in many ways," Gu says.

One popular way is to make congee. Soak the black rice in clean water for a whole night because the rice is wrapped in a tough outer skin. Soaking for long hours can make it softer and will allow you to get the full benefits of all the nutrients.

The next morning, cook it at a high heat until it boils. Then simmer for another 20-30 minutes when it turns sticky and soft.

"It's a very nutritious breakfast. You can also add some honey or put some jujubes to strengthen the nutrition value," Gu says. "The congee soup tastes and smells great."

Remember that if black rice congee doesn't turn sticky or soft after being cooked, it is not good for those with weak digestion.

Some grandmothers in the village use black rice to make a sticky cake that is a popular snack.

Mix the black rice with starch, rice, glutinous rice and rock candy. Ground them into powder with water. Stew it on the oven until it becomes sticky. Then cut it into small pieces after it cools down.

In addition, black rice can be used as a filling for dumplings and bread. And villagers are also learning how to ferment black rice to make wine. Easy-to-make black rice dishes

? Black rice congee with red beans

1. Soak 150g of black rice in water for about six hours. Soak 50g of red beans for about one hour.

2. Put the rice, red beans and some lotus seeds in about 1 liter of water together and bring it to a boil.

3. Reduce the heat and simmer it for about one hour.

4. Add peanuts and stew for another 30 minutes.

5. Add rock candy and some osmanthus petals. Serve.

? Steamed black rice with sweet pear

1. Soak 25g of black rice in water for about one day and 75g of glutinous rice for five hours.

2. Mix them together and add 100ml of water. Cover it with a lid.

3. Put it into the microwave oven at a high temperature for four minutes. Then shift to a medium temperature for three minutes until you smell the strong fragrance. Don't open the microwave right away. Let it cool for 15 minutes.

4. Add some salad oil in a bowl, paved with jujubes, sliced pears and walnut.

5. Cover the bowl with a lid too and warm it in the microwave oven for four minutes at a medium temperature.

6. Pour the rice into the decorated bowl and serve.


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