What Is Wild Rice?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Wild Rice

Juanmonino/Getty Images 

Wild rice is a semi-aquatic grass that grows with abundance in North America's Great Lakes region. It's one of the only two native grains commonly eaten in the United States, and the firm texture and nutty flavor of its long, black grains make wild rice stand apart from its white and brown counterparts. Home cooks and chefs have long taken to this ingredient, using it as a side dish, stuffing for meats, and in soup.

What is Wild Rice?

Wild rice has been cultivated and eaten for centuries, is native to the Connecticut River Basin, and grows naturally in waterways all over the United States. It can even be found thriving along the Gulf Coast, where stalks reach up to 12 feet high. Though wild rice mimics conventionally grown rice in many ways, it isn't actually a true rice — it's an aquatic grass with an edible grain. Wild rice tends to be longer, has a more nutty, earthy flavor and the hull is thicker and more rigid.

wild rice
 mikroman6/Getty Images
wild rice
Maryna Ievdokimova/Getty Images 
Wild rice
 LauriPatterson/Getty Images
wild rice
bhofack2/Getty Images 
wild rice
bhofack2/Getty Images 

What to Do With Wild Rice

Make wild rice just as you prepare white or brown rice, but it will require a longer cooking time. The grains triple in size, so one cup of dried wild rice will yield at least three cups cooked. Serve it as a side dish or alongside grilled chicken or salmon. Rice pilaf is another popular preparation that works well with a blend of wild and white rices.

Wild rice is a popular base for stuffings in lieu of bread, adding a pleasing chewy texture. Mix it into meatballs (also called porcupines), pop on the stove like popcorn for a flavorful snack, and stir it into a soup.

What Does Wild Rice Taste Like?

There's a superb toasted nuttiness to a bowl of freshly cooked wild rice that makes the dish warming and satisfying. As long as the grains aren't overcooked, wild rice has a pleasing chew, something that gives soups and casseroles a wonderful texture. Though its earthy flavor is stronger than white and brown rice, it's not overpowering.

Wild Rice Recipes

Use wild rice in a wide range of dishes, anywhere you'd incorporate another hearty whole grain.

Where to Buy Wild Rice

The grain aisle in your local supermarket is likely to carry at least one brand of wild rice, and specialty shops may stock multiple varieties. Look for hand-harvested wild rice or cultivated, the latter will be easier to track down. Wild rice can be bought in bulk at most health food stores.

Storage

Keep dry wild rice in an airtight container in a dark, cool spot like a pantry or cupboard. This ingredient will keep for years as long as it doesn't get wet. Store cooked wild rice in a closed container in the fridge for up to a week. Freeze cooked wild rice in an airtight container for up to six months.

Nutrition and Benefits

Wild rice is slightly higher in protein than most whole grains and contains folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, Vitamin B6 and niacin.

Varieties

You can buy wild rice cultivated or wild-grown, and aside from price points (about $3 per pound versus $9), there's a distinct variation in color and flavor. "Wild" wild rice tends to be light to dark brown, or slightly greenish. It has a mild, more subtle flavor that borders on smoky. Farmed wild rice is a deeper dark brown, almost black. It's a bit tougher and takes longer cook, but its deep nutty nuances are worth the extra effort. Packaged wild rice may be multi-hued, an indication that it's made with a blend of four species of wild rice, or it may have white or other kinds of rice mixed in.

Myths

Most wild rice is not actually grown in the wild, but rather cultivated in "grow puddles" at farms to mimic its native growing conditions.