Red yeast rice is sold in jars at as a wet aggregate, whole dried grains, or as a ground powder. It was a commonly used red in East Asian and Chinese cuisine prior to the discovery of chemical food colouring. It has also been used in .
Red yeast rice is produced by cultivating ''Monascus purpureus'' on polished rice. The rice is first soaked in water until the grains are fully saturated. The raw soaked rice can then either be directly inoculated, or steamed for the purpose of sterilizing and cooking the grains prior to inoculation. Inoculation is done by mixing ''M. purpureus'' spores or powdered red yeast rice together with the processed rice. The mix is then incubated in an environment around room temperature for 3–6 days. During this period of time, the rice should be fully cultured with ''M. purpureus'', with each rice grain turning bright red in its core and reddish purple on the outside.
The fully cultured rice is then either sold as the dried grain, or cooked and pasteurized to be sold as a wet paste, or dried and pulverized to be sold as a fine powder. China is the world's largest producer of red yeast rice.
Due to the high cost of chemical dyes, some producers of red yeast rice have tried to adulterate their products with red dye #2 Sudan Red G .
The dried grain can be prepared and eaten in the same manner as white rice--a common practice among Asians. It can also be added to other foods.
Red yeast rice is used to colour a wide variety of food products, including pickled tofu, red rice vinegar, ''char siu'', Peking Duck, and Chinese pastries that require red food colouring. It is also traditionally used in the production of several types of Chinese wine, Japanese ''sake'' , and , imparting a reddish colour to these wines.
Although used mainly for its colour in cuisine, red yeast rice imparts a subtle but pleasant taste to food.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
In addition to its culinary use, red yeast rice is also used in traditional Chinese herbology and traditional Chinese medicine. Its use has been documented as far back as the Tang Dynasty in China in 800 A.D. and taken internally to invigorate the body, aid in digestion, and remove "blood blockages".
Red yeast rice when produced using the 'Went' strain of ''Monascus purpureus'' contains significant quantites of the HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor lovastatin which is also known as ''mevinolin'', a naturally-occurring statin. It is sold as an over the counter dietary supplement for controlling cholesterol . There is strong scientific evidence for its effect in lowering blood levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein/LDL , and triglyceride levels . Because an approved drug is identical to the molecule it is therefore regulated as a drug by the Food and Drug Administration .
In 1998, the U.S. district court in Utah allowed a product containing red yeast rice extract known as Cholestin to be sold without restriction, but this was reversed on appeal. . Cholestin as a product continues to be marketed but no longer contains red yeast rice . Other companies sell red yeast rice products but most of them use a different strain of yeast or different growing conditions, resulting in RYR with a negligible statin content. The labeling on these new products often says nothing about cholesterol lowering. As late as August 2007, FDA noted supplements being sold containing significant lovastatin levels.
In 2006 Liu et al published a meta-analysis of clinical trials . The article cited 93 published, controlled clinical trials . Total cholesterol decreased by 35 mg/dl, LDL-cholesterol by 28 mg/dl, triglycerides by 35 mg/dl, and HDL-cholesterol increased by 6 mg/dl. Zhao et al reported on a four-year trial in people with diabetes . There was a 40-50% reduction in cardio events and cardio deaths in the treated group. Ye et al reported on a four-year trial in elderly Chinese patients with heart disease . Deaths were down 32%. There is at least one report in the literature of a statin-like myopathy caused by red yeast rice .
An article in the June 15, 2008, issue of the American Journal of Cardiology found that red yeast rice may provide benefits beyond those provided by statins. The researchers reported that the benefits seemed to exceed those reported with lovastatin alone.
ConsumerLab.com found large variation in the active compounds between red yeast rice supplements, and also found that some of them were contaminated with citrinin, a mycotoxin. Evidence about the side effects of red yeast rice is limited, but it may have similar side effects to the drug lovastatin, which include kidney problems and other side effects. Regular medical monitoring is needed to detect such effects.