Also called red fermented rice, red kojic rice, red koji rice, anka or ang-kak, red yeast rice recognized by its reddish purple color. The process of fermenting the rice with the mold Monascus purpureus gives the grain its distinct hue. Red yeast rice has a variety of uses that utilize both its color and healthy benefits.
Widely used in Asia for centuries, products containing red yeast rice began appearing on U.S. shelves in 2003, escalating to about 30 varieties by 2010. They have grown in popularity as a natural way to lower "bad" (LDL) cholesterol. Today, the primary uses for red yeast rice remain culinary and medicinal:
Red yeast rice is used to color a wide array of foods, including products such as red rice vinegar and pickled tofu and dishes like Peking Duck. The fermented rice is also used to make some types of Chinese wine, Japanese sake and Korean rice wine, providing their reddish color. While in the kitchen red yeast rice is primarily used for coloring, it does add a pleasant, yet subtle taste. Red yeast rice is predominantly used in the cuisine found in the Fujian regions of China.
Red yeast rice is also used in traditional Chinese herbology and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The use of red yeast rice has been recorded as early as 800 A.D. as a way to boost energy, aid in digestion and strengthen the blood. The Ming Dynasty, which ruled China from 1368 to 1644, also detailed their use of red yeast rice in Ben Cao Gang Mu-Dan Shi Bu Yi, a pharmaceutical reference guide.
Today, red yeast rice has been credited with lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Both in the United States and Japan, researchers were able to isolate lovastatin from Aspergillus and monacolins from Monascus--the same fungus that's used to produce red yeast rice. Lovastatin then became a patented drug while red yeast rice was formulated into a dietary supplement. Lovastatin and other statin drugs prevent the formation of cholesterol by blocking the action of the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase.
According to clinical trials conducted in China, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol decreased while LDL cholesterol increased in subjects who took red yeast rice. Some heart attack patients who also took red yeast rice had a lesser risk of subsequent heart attacks.