ST. LOUIS — Farmers in Thailand grow purple rice, a whole grain with high levels of antioxidants, that often ends up in desserts and has a place in traditional religious and cultural ceremonies.

Yet research published online Jan. 10 in Economic Botany shows the dark-pigmented varieties potentially could be used in breeding projects, possibly leading to rice that withstands weather conditions better.

“Although individual farmers only grow (purple rice) in small quantities, and primarily for consumption by their own family, one family’s variety is likely to be genetically distinct from that of another family nearby,” said Kenneth M. Olsen, Ph.D., a professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis. “This is the sort of genetic diversity that gets wiped out with large-scale commercial farming where only a single genetically uniform variety may be grown over a wide geographic area.”

Such genetic diversity preserved in traditional varieties like purple rice could serve as a resource for rice crop breeding. Varieties that could better withstand droughts, floods and other weather problems are possible.

Dr. Olsen said the purple rice has a nutty, berry-like flavor and a slightly chewy texture. He teamed up with researchers from Chiang Mai University in Thailand on the study.