Red yeast rice is a type of rice which is fermented with yeast, giving the rice a distinctive color and flavor. In addition to being used for culinary purposes, red yeast rice is also believed to be beneficial medically, specifically contributing to lowered levels of cholesterol. Asian markets sometimes carry this rice, in a variety of forms, and it can also be purchased at some health food stores and through companies which supply ingredients used in alternative medicine.
In fact, the chemicals in red yeast rice are so similar to some prescription drugs that the American Food and Drug Administration has considered regulating it, out of concern that people might not use the rice responsibly. Several studies have been conducted on this rice to learn more about what it contains, and the yeast used to make the rice, Monascus purpureus, has even been used to manufacture some statins, or cholesterol-lowering drugs.
This rice is made by husking and polishing regular rice and then fermenting it with the yeast, allowing a thick red to purple crust to develop on the rice. Once the rice has been fully fermented, it can be processed in a number of ways. Some companies pasteurize and wet-pack their rice, while others may dry the rice. It can also be pureed, or turned into an extract which is used as a food supplement.
Historically, red yeast rice has been used to add color to many Asian dishes, taking advantage of its naturally red appearance. It is also prepared and served just like regular rice, to accompany a wide range of dishes. The rice has a slightly earthy, fermented flavor which some people find quite enjoyable. Red yeast rice and its extract are also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to lower cholesterol and treat intestinal complaints.
Studies conducted in the West have shown that this kind of rice does indeed lower cholesterol when consumed on a regular basis, although purified statins and other drugs are probably safer and more effective. However, it seems to have little impact on stomach health or cardiovascular conditions, getting a grade of “C,” which suggests “unclear scientific evidence” to support these uses. Because red yeast rice can potentially have an impact on cholesterol, people who plan on consuming a lot of this rice may want to consult their doctors to ensure that it is appropriate for them; the rice is also considered potentially dangerous for pregnant and nursing mothers.