The wild aquatic grass called zinzania aquatica from which wild rice is derived has no relation to the rice plant. Zinzania aquatica grows naturally in the pristine lakes of Manitoba in Canada and Minnesota in the U S A. Both regions in North America are well noted for their superior quality.
Northern California grows cultivated wild rice, but the quality of this product has been debatable ever since it was first marketed.
In the early days, this most delicious staple of first nations of Canada was harvested entirely by hand. The grain was dried over wood fires, “danced” upon in pots to remove the hulls, and winnowed clean using birch bark pans and the wind.
Harvesting wild rice mechanically is a relatively new technique. Unlike other grains, zinzania aquatica ripens at different times; therefore, in order to completely harvest an area, it must be picked over as many as eight times. Approximately 1000 hectares of wild rice exist on Lake DuBois in Manitoba, famous for its high quality wild rice marketed both in Canada and European countries.
Because wild rice grows freely in swamps, during harvesting approximately 60 percent is lost, making it expansive. However, the intense, nutty flavour of this old Indian staple is delicious and a small amount goes a long way towards satisfying a hungry diner.
Wild rice can be mixed with regular rice to improve the latter.
It has a high nutritive value. Government studies have concluded that it contains high amounts of niacin, thiamine, riboflavin and more protein than wheat. It contains only 65 calories per 125 gram serving and is free of additives.
Wild rice is marketed in 250, 500 gram packages and for wholesale in 25 kg sacks.
Wild rice should be cooked in proportions of 1:3 or 3:5. The liquid may be plain water or chicken stock.
Gourmet cooks should not confuse rice and wild rice mixtures marketed by corporations with the true product; both are worlds apart from a taste and flavour perspective.
Chefs featuring wild rice specialties may be successful in attracting clientele that would otherwise patronize another establishment.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu