In different cultures, food is consumed not only to sustain life but also to give certain social meaning. Dating back to several centuries ago, some communities used certain foods in their diet to provide good nutrition and also as a type of medicine to prevent or manage various types of diseases and disorders. Such foods were identified to have some potent pharmacological effects that are sufficient to bring positive treatment results.
Currently, several empirical studies have been conducted to investigate the validity of therapeutic effects on such foods which had traditionally been used as medicine. The purpose of this paper is to discuss red yeast rice, which has been the food and traditional medicine in China for many centuries.
Rice has been part of dietary staple food in the Asian continent. This food crop grows in warm and wet climatic conditions, and it is widely grown in several Asian countries. For a long time, China has been known to be one of the global largest producers of rice.
Traditional Chinese community used to ferment various kinds of their agricultural produce into foods using microorganisms. Red yeast rice is one of such commodities used in most of the Chinese dishes. Red yeast rice in the Chinese culture as food and medicine was first documented in 800AD (Ma, Li & Hua et al., p 5220).
Red Koji or Hongqu are local Chinese names for red yeast rice. It is prepared from rice and red yeast through the fermentation process. A certain food fungus from Monascus species is put on steamed rice to help fermentation. This method is used to produce fermented food and also wines. Ancient Chinese literature documented processing of red yeast rice as one of the foodstuffs in their diet.
During the fermentation process, bright reddish purple pigmentation is produced that gives this rice its unique color. Several studies have been carried out to find out metabolites that are produced during the fermentation process, which give characteristic color to red yeast rice (Ma, Li & Hua et al., p 5220).
Red yeast rice has a sweet taste and warm property. Among Chinese, this food was considered as a medicine that helped to improve digestion and blood circulation. It was also known to regenerate spleen tissues and dry stomach according to one of Ming Dynasty renowned pharmacologists.
This function of red yeast rice favored traditional Chinese medical theory concept of blood. Clinical studies previously conducted revealed that red yeast rice can lower blood lipid levels in humans as it contains inhibitors of cholesterol synthesis Ma, Li & Hua et al., p 5221).
The most recent randomized controlled trail that used red yeast rice treatment indicated its ability to lower blood cholesterol by approximately 18% in two months (Ma, Li & Hua, p 5221). This confirmed empirical wisdom in the use of red yeast rice in traditional Chinese medicine.
In another Chinese study, extracts of red yeast rice have shown to improve blood glucose level by increasing insulin sensitivity in patients with type II diabetes. Adverse effects associated with used of red yeast rice are heart burn, gas, and general gastro-intestinal tract discomfort. However, they are mild and clear with the cessation of using the product (Erdogrul & Azirak, p 45).
Red yeast rice in the Chinese culture has often been used in cookery as a food color in various types of dishes such as char siu, Peking duck, pickled tofu and various kinds of pastries besides traditionally being used to make Chinese wine. It has not been used as the main dish alone. Apart from the fact that this food has been known culturally as medicine among Chinese, there is no available information on its environmental interaction and its use in special cultural events among the Chinese.
Erdogrul, OZlem & Azirak, Sebile. Review of studies on the red yeast rice (Monascus purpureus). Turkish electronic journal of Biotechnology, vo.l 2: p 45, 2004. Print
Ma, Jiyuan, Li Y.Qing , Hua Yanjun, Li Jing, Ju DaJun, Zhang …Decheng & Chang Micheal. Constituents of Red Yeast Rice, a traditional Chinese food and medicine. J. Agric Food Chem, 48:5520-5225, 2000.Print