A number of different rices are referred to as “red rice.” In most cases, people mean an unhulled or partially hulled rice which has a red husk, rather than the much more common brown. Like other unhulled rices, red rice has a nutty flavor, and a high nutritional value, thanks to the fact that the germ of the rice is left intact. Some specialty stores carry red rice, often labeled as “Bhutanese red rice” or “cargo rice,” and it can also be purchased through companies which specialize in rice.
However, “red rice” can also refer to a wild variety of rice which has a very low grain yield, leading many rice farmers in its native Asia to regard it as a weed. This type of red rice can become a real nuisance next to rice plantations, because it can cross-breed, producing inferior rice plants, and it can take over. Several attempts have been made to genetically modify this rice varietal to make it more useful.
The term “red rice” is also sometimes used to refer to red yeast rice, a specialized product made in China and Japan. To make red yeast rice, manufacturers hull and polish rice grains and then cultivate a mold which creates a crusty red coating. This rice can be eaten like regular rice, but it is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a variety of conditions. Studies on red yeast rice also seem to suggest that it may help fight harmful cholesterol.
Assuming one is not referring to a weed or to red yeast rice, red rice comes in a variety of forms. Some cultivars are short grained and very sticky, while others are long-grained. Red rice is grown in Europe, Southeast Asia, and the American South, and some companies have developed their own cultivars by cross-breeding several varieties.
When red rice is cooked, the natural red color in the bran, or hull of the rice, leaches out and dyes the rest of the dish red to pink. Red rice is high in fiber, because of the bran, and the flavor is much stronger than that of hulled rice, tasting more nutty and full. Red rice can be served with a variety of foods in addition to being eaten on its own, and it can be incorporated into risotto and other mixed rice dishes as well.