In most grocery stores or food markets, you’ll find aisles dedicated to rice and rice prod-ucts. It’s a household staple in many countries and comes in a mind-boggling number of varieties.
But it wasn’t until I went through 20 football fields worth of exhibit halls last summer at the THAIFEX-World of Food Asia international trade fair that I encountered my latest obsession: Thai riceberry, a new type of super nutritious (and delicious) brown rice.
Home to more than 6,000 varieties, Thailand is one of the world’s leading rice producers, exporting 20 million tons of it every year. To address issues threatening the industry — such as harvest loss due to climate change and external competitors flooding the market — researchers from Thailand’s Kasetsart University Rice Science Center have developed new strains, including riceberry.
A cross-breed of Jao Hom Nin (a non-glutinous Thai purple rice) and Khao Dawk Mali 105 (Thai Jasmine), riceberry has all the desirable characteristics of its parents: It’s high in antioxidants and minerals like zinc and iron, and it cooks up light, fluffy and fragrant without needing to pre-soak.
“I love brown rice [but I] love riceberry more because it has a ton of health benefits,” says Chef Nuit Regular, co-owner of Toronto’s Kiin, Pai, Sabai Sabai and Sukhothai restaurants, adding that she’s also a fan of riceberry’s texture.
How to Use Riceberry
Rice is a pantry staple in my household; I now use riceberry in its place for any meal. It’s the perfect vehicle to eat with a stir-fry, to absorb saucy curries, to accompany stews or broths chocked full of vegetables or meat, or even to use as a quick and simple side to a pan-seared steak and a tossed salad.
Chilled, the nutty-tasting cooked grain has great integrity that stands well in any rice-based salad (its purple shade also provides a pretty background colour to nuts, dried fruit, chopped peppers and herbs). Boiled congee-style, the Chinese rice porridge is great eaten with leftovers from Cantonese barbecue, like soy-braised chicken or barbecue pork, leftover stir-fry, or simply with crispy pork floss and a handful of chopped scallions.
Riceberry also lends itself well to weekly meal prep: Simply cook a larger batch and freeze portions of leftover riceberry in a thin, flat layer in microwave-safe plastic wrap. To reheat, just place one of the frozen rice packs in the microwave on high for a minute and a half or until warmed through. Or re-steam in a pan with 2 to 4 tablespoons of water on low, stirring frequently until the water is absorbed and the rice is heated through.
While I do enjoy cooked riceberry as it is, it’s often blended with equal parts Jasmine rice. Sold as a mix (or you can combine the two rice varietals yourself), the speckled rice can be prepared using the same foolproof method as making Jasmine rice.
How to Cook Riceberry
One reason I love riceberry so much is it’s prepared exactly like Jasmine rice. Here’s how:
- Thoroughly rinse the grains
- Put 1 part riceberry to 1.5 parts water in a medium pot
- Cook, covered, over medium-high heat until the water comes to a boil, then simmer at low heat with the lid slightly ajar for 10 minutes, or until the water level has reduced and small steam holes in the rice appear
- Cover and remove the pot of rice from the heat (turning off the stove) and let sit off-heat for 10 minutes more. Fluff the rice with a fork or utensil before serving
Using a rice cooker:
- Place riceberry and water in a rice cooker (on white rice setting) and switch on to cook. The rice cooker will automatically turn off when the cooking process is complete. Let the rice rest for 10 minutes before removing the lid. Fluff with a fork or utensil before serving
- To make congee: Bring 6-8 parts water to 1 part riceberry to a boil over medium heat in a pot, covered with a lid that’s slightly ajar. Turn down to simmer for 1 hour, stirring frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Salt to taste
Where To Find Riceberry
Full disclosure: I’ve been all over Toronto looking for riceberry for the past year. I’ve found it here and there at Fiesta Farms or 4Life Natural Foods, in toasty rice cracker form at Farm Boy, and I’ve tasted it as a blend in Kiin’s Khao Yum (rice salad) and its crispy omelette.
Since demand often influences supply, the more Canadians ask for riceberry, the more likely we’ll see it beyond select retailers (see list below). Phone calls to suppliers like Red Phoenix International Trading have hinted to a modest rollout in larger retailers by fall.
Select retailers where you’ll most likely find riceberry (also labelled rice berry, black jasmine, or black berry rice)
Sunny Food Market
Field Fresh Supermarket
4 Life Natural Foods
Essence of Life Organics
Evergreen Natural Foods
Noah’s Natural Foods