Wild rice is a source of cultural pride in Minnesota where I'm from. Unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation about it online and in print. It's time I had a guide on here about one of the most important ingredient of my region, so, I'm going to try and answer all the questions I can about it.
And there's lots of questions: Is it actually wild? Which wild rice is the best to buy? Is there a difference between expensive hand-harvested wild rice and cultivated? What about parched, cultivated wild rice? Gas parched? Lake rice? River rice? How much water do you add?
All the terms and info are confusing. My goal here is to help you understand the differences between various types of wild rice, and to dispel as many culinary myths about it in the process as possible.
Harvesting your own wild rice
This post has nothing to do with harvesting your own wild rice. I still haven't been ricing myself. If you're interested in learning about harvesting your own I recommend Sam Thayer's first book: The Foragers Harvest.
All I'm going to talk about here is purchasing, sourcing, cooking and navigating how you can get the best wild rice for your professional or home kitchen.
The two types of wild rice
This is the biggest thing to know, and by far the most confusing, so be patient and stay with me here. If you go to the store, more than likely, you'll see bags of black, shiny wild rice for sale. If you go online, and search for wild rice, things get more complicated.
There's hand harvested wood parched wild rice, black wild rice, air-boat harvested gas-parched lake rice, cultivated wood-parched wild rice, and regular cultivated wild rice. Oh, and there's also fancy, roll cut, soup grade, quick-cooking, rice in a can (no, just no) and on and on.
So, which wild rice to buy? Which one's real? Before we choose, it's important to understand the differences between the two types of rice.
Blackened wild rice
Why is wild rice black? The black wild rice (often called cultivated, commodity, or black paddy rice) you commonly see in stores is from the same plant (Zizania aquatica) that will produce the other more expensive wild rice, the difference comes in how the wild rice is processed.
After commodity wild rice is harvested, it is left wet for a few days, and that is the most crucial part of the process.
As the rice sits, a sort of transformation occurs where the rice hardens it's seed coat (I can only assume to make the seed viable for long periods of time) called the "blackening process".
The rice hardens it's seed coat, turning it black, and in the process there's some fermentation that alters the flavor a bit (more on that later).
Natural, Hand-Harvested Wild Rice, Manoomin or Lake Rice
By contrast, the other wild rice (which could go by any of the above names) isn't left wet, it's dried, then parched by toasting over a fire. Traditionally the heat source was a wood fire (wood-parched) but gas parching has become common and has a similar effect on the rice, but a slightly less interesting flavor.
The heating and toasting halts any blackening, gives a toasty, sometimes smoky taste to the rice in the case of wood parching, especially if it's done using traditional methods..
Wild rice processed in this way will have an uneven color, with the grains being different shades of tan, golden and brown. It is visibly different from the shiny black stuff.
Most of the expensive wild rice you purchase will be that, and it's good. It is a completely different product compared to blackened wild rice, or paddy rice, as it's often called.
Another name for hand-harvested, parched wild rice is Manoomin, the Anishinabe name. Confusingly, cultivated black rice is parched too, but this should happen after the blacking process.
Purchasing Wild Rice
In other countries like Italy, special food products like wild rice are regulated for their quality and processes. In the United States, we don't have any systems like that, so it's really up to the buyer to do their homework when figuring out which wild rice to by.
All of this makes the simple question of where to buy wild rice a confusing one. I'm lucky, because there's lots of good wild rice for sale near me, but, depending on where you live, you might not be so lucky, so I'm including a few pieces of advice I think are really helpful here.
How much does wild rice cost?
The good stuff is expensive, typically double what the black wild rice will sell for. When in doubt, buy the expensive stuff. Expect to pay anywhere from 12$-20$ a pound. Confusingly, some cultivated rice can be sold for nearly as much as the low end of the spectrum here.
Inspect the rice
You can usually see the differences between types of wild rice easily just by looking at them. Black paddy wild rice is jet black and shiny, while hand-harvested manoomin will have grains of uneven color, with a matte finish.
For the sake of mentioning it, black rice, or forbidden rice, is not even close to the same product here, and is more closely related to rice like brown and white rice.
Wild Rice Names
Really good wild rice masquerades under a number of different names, but a few good terms to keep your eye open for are:
- Wood parched
- Lake rice or river rice
All of these terms will generally mean that your wild rice has not undergone the blacking process. By comparison, black wild rice will usually be labeled as cultivated, farmed, black etc.
Exactly what it sounds like. Soup grade wild rice is broken, cut, or in pieces so it can be added directly to soup while it cooks. As the cut grains differ in size, they'll also absorb water at a different rate. This is not for cooking on the stove top like typical wild rice, it will be mushy.
Natural, long grains of wild rice. If the rice is blackened wild rice, it can take an hour to cook. Basically this indicates high-end wild rice that doesn't have broken particles in it that can absorb water at different rates.
Roll cut, at least to me, is basically the same thing as quick cooking. The rice is cut using a machine to cut down on the cooking time. It's best for soup, stuffing, or bread and will cook up mushy on the stove top.
Quick cooking is complicated. Confusingly, good, high quality wild rice is sometimes labeled as "quick cook" wild rice, like this example here. Then you have others labeled quick cook that are obviously blackened rice, like this example here. So, when in doubt, use the price, visual, and terminology examples I've mentioned here, and you should be able to sniff out the real McCoy.
Where to Buy Wild Rice
Here's a few of my favorite sellers. When in doubt, purchase the most expensive type a supplier offers. These have been fluctuating, if you know good sources, please comment so I can keep it up to date.
- KC's Best (Good company that sells a variety. Budget friendly if you buy in bulk.)
- Foragers Harvest (Extra high quality, seasonal, sells out fast)
- Moose Lake Wild Rice
- TNT Wild Rice (WI)
- Wildly Organic
How to Cook Wild Rice
Cooking gets confusing depending on who you ask, and what type of wild rice you're cooking. For example, the water to wild rice ratio can vary drastically depending on who is telling you how to cook it.
One company I know of recommends boiling all their rice, lake rice, parched rice, or black paddy rice in the same ratio of water (nearly 1:6) which is crazy talk, and wasteful since you'll inevitably end up pouring some of the cooking liquid down the drain (on a side note, the cooking liquid is delicious and I used to catch my line cooks drinking it!).
Water to Wild Rice Ratio
- Natural wild rice: use 1:2 rice to water ~ 20-25 minutes
- Blackened wild rice use 1:4 rice to water ~ 45-60 minutes
Generally speaking, a ratio of 1 parts wild rice to 2 parts water will be just fine for cooking your hand-harvested wild rice, lake rice, etc.
Black paddy rice is very different, generally using a ratio of 1:4, and that translates to a different texture and taste, but even more importantly, (and something I've never heard any other author speak of) post-cooking weight.
In my mind, this is the reason (or at least one) we often see wild rice blends marketed instead of a similar product like a seasoned kit a la Uncle Bens or Rice-a-Roni made from purely wild rice.
After cooking, black paddy wild rice is heavy, and eating a whole bowl of it just doesn't appeal to many people, myself included. I usually cut with something to lighten it up.
Natural wild rice is a different world. The real deal cooks up light as a feather with a delicate flavor, making it delicious for literally any meal of the day. Real wild rice simply cooked and slathered with melted butter and drizzled with maple syrup is a breakfast of the gods.
Part of why the real McCoy is so good is the quick-drying and parching process that gives it the lighter flavor and shorter cooking time, but also, you're not eating water weight, so it's literally lighter to eat.
Wild Rice Recipes
Here's a few of my favorites
- Turkey Wild Rice Soup with Black Trumpets
- Grouse Wild Rice with Wild Mushrooms
- Wild Rice Polenta
- Wild Rice Flour Pasta Dough
- Wild Rice Crackers
- Chicken of the Woods Wild Rice Casserole
More Wild Rice Recipes
This was very, very informative. I've always been intimidated by cooking with the darker colored rices simply because I am totally ignorant of their properties, how they are produced, cooked, taste, etc. Thank you very much. Perhaps I'll give them a try although I'll reread this several times - I'm sure! LOL!! A lot has been written here lately about how soaking rice first helps with digestion - so that's something I'm interested in as well. So your line cooks drank that liquid, huh? Hmmmm, very interesting. Thanks,
This was the one I was waiting for, especially sources for the right stuff. Thanks I like to add toasted pecans to my breakfast manoomin, and I always take it on camping trips and cook a large amount the first night to it’s ready for quick breakfast and supper base.
What a Christmas memory! Thank you for posting. 50 years ago we lived on Spring Lane near Inger, Minnesota, in the Chippewa National Forest. Every autumn we hand harvested wild rice. It provided quite an economic boost for residents in the area. At that time, the paddy rice had not yet been perfected. Occasionally we would travel to Red Lake to harvest because that rice had the reputation for being the largest grain and best flavor.
I was raised in Louisiana and our absolute favorite wild rice dish was a Minnesota version of the Louisiana dish called Dirty Rice using wild duck breasts and morels in the ingredients.
Thank you for allowing me this trip down memory lane.
P.S. ... and I NEVER threw out the water!!
Thanks for sharing this. I don't think I've ever had anything but the cultivated wild rice, and did not realize there was a substantial difference between it and the more expensive "lake harvested" product, assuming, perhaps, that the price difference was just a bunch of hype. It turns out that Frankferd Farms, a small food co-op out of PA that has been part of my life since I moved to Green Bank, WV in 2000, carries 2 of the Grey Owl products, one cultivated (from MN) and more interestingly, one called Canadian Lake Wild Rice at almost twice the price. What is on my shelf right now is almost certainly the former product, and I now look forward to trying the latter.
A follow-up: The Grey Owl "Canadian Lake Wild Rice" arrived, and I was very disappointed to see, through the plastic window on the box, that the rice is uniformly black, which, thanks to your explorations, I know means that it was not parched immediately after harvesting. I am going to return it, as I've already got plenty of the black wild rice, and paid extra so I could try the stuff that hadn't been left wet.
Carla, I'm sorry the Grey Owl didn't come through for you. I wasn't so sure this post would help to many people, since wild rice of both kinds is so available near me, so I considered not sharing it, but now I'm glad I did. Yes, the color and look is the first way you'll be able to tell the difference, along with cooking guidelines, since blackened rice uses double the liquid. If you find another good supplier online, let me know and I'll add them to the list here since Foragers Harvest will probably sell out soon at the rate things are going here.
I suspect that what Lunds and Byerlys (also Kowlskyis) in the Twin Cities offers is the black paddy wild rice. I will check it out more thoroughly next time I'm out, but the long grain version of what they sell as wild rice for their "house brand" is black like the grains in your photos. When I go up to the North Shore, there's always at least one gas station selling "Wild rice" for 3# for $13, which honestly looks like a mix between the real thing and black paddy rice. Thank you so much for writing this piece.
Funny enough last time I was there Kowalskis house brand was high quality. Generally, high price=quality.
Mary Alyce Kronzer
We are lucky enough to be able to purchase Leech Lake Wild Rice - some of the REAL stuff. One of the things we do with our rice is rinse it in water to clean off the few husks that remain. We just put the rice in a bowl and fill it with it with water and gently swirl it around to let the debris and husks rise to the top and rise until clear. It gently cooks in about 20 -25 minutes. Also, we do not let our rice "bloom" meaning we do not let the kernels completely open. We like our rice to be at that almost done stage where it has a slight al dente texture to it. Maybe I missed it in this wonderful article, but another thing you can do with your wild rice is to pop it - just like popcorn. The Nett Lake variety is supposed to be the best for this. This is a very educational article for folks who are unfamiliar with this wonderful resource.
Thanks, Alan, for this article-- What a well-timed present!
I've never understood anything about wild rice.
Now, to look at some of your recipes.
Thanks for the detail here, wild rice has always been a mystery but something I’ve wanted to master. Last time I was in MN, I picked up a package of wild rice grown and harvested by Red Lake Nation, which I tossed into a kale and sausage soup.
Looking forward to trying your wild rice and creeping Charlie recipe—I’ve got so much of it in my yard!
Thanks. You'll be surprised with the creeping charlie. It makes a nice, novel dish. The Red Lake stuff is generally blackened rice. I'll keep updating this post with suppliers as they pop up.
Very informative article. I will definitely give wild rice another try, but will make sure it's the "good" stuff. Thanks for trying to educate our drive-thru culture on all of the great foods we are missing out on.
Nice article Alan. My wife and I have been hand-harvesting wild rice from a canoe (in N. Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan) for about 26 years now. I was taught how to do it by a friend back then, and it kinda got into my blood. Now I look forward to going out there every year in early September for the annual ritual. You really should try harvesting your own sometime, if only for the experience. Some years it is not that hard to get a good quantity of rice, whereas in other years (like the last couple), the rice crop is not all that good, so more work is involved. The heavy rains we have experienced here over the last few years have raised water levels on our local lakes and rivers, which is not good for rice (which will not grow in water more than 3 ft. deep). I have hand-parched my own rice on several occasions, but now I take it to a guy who processes it in his garage, with a homemade processing machine. He does a great job, and instead of charging for his work, he keeps 20% of the finished rice, which is a fair deal. When I worked for the US Forest Service, part of my job was to restore wild rice beds to lakes and rivers that had once supported it, but no longer did. It was interesting work, and I'm happy to say that some of our rice restoration projects were quite successful. Anyway, thanks again................wild rice is one of my favorite subjects. I have used it in many different recipes over the years, but I think my favorite is actually the simplest.............just cooked until fluffy, then served as a side dish (warm) with a little high quality butter mixed in. Can't beat it!
Thanks Rob, Sam Thayer has been saying he would take me out to a river in WI for the last couple years but the seasons short and we keep missing the window. Someday.
I'm a newbie to wild rice. Just had some Lundberg's, went online to look into buying bulk and came across your article. So I guess I had the commonly commercially available kind. Thanks for the education.
I'm wondering, what about the nutritional difference? Is there any or is this purely a taste difference?
Great article Alan,
Another place I have found to get the best wild rice is at https://wildlyorganic.com/collections/rice-grains
They import from Canada and carry Jumbo, Hand Parched, and Wood Parched. Excellent quality and I learned why from reading your article!!
Thanks Sue, I'll add it to the list!
Hello Alan, I post educational material for the Wisconsin Farmers Market Association FaceBook page and I've just linked to this very informative Manoomin guide, BTW, you might want to update the hyperlink to Nett Lake Wild Rice with this URL https://boisforte.com/product/nett-lake-wild-rice/.
Thanks I updated the link. Hate when those break.
Alan, My husband and I were just visiting the Lake Superior shore in MN. We saw several gas stations selling wild rice. My husband checked your site before I went in the gas station in Duluth,MN. I bought 3lbs Great Lakes wild rice 100% Minnesota cultivated. Wood Parched for 21.99.
Eager to try it!!
I stock up every time I visit the north or south shore. You'll get the hang of it-and enjoy!
All I can say is "I never knew". I love wild rice but never knew the difference. I am looking forward to buying the hand cultivated since I enjoy the wild rice and the nutrients it provides. Thank you so much for the suggested brands too which I am going to check out next after trying to save this info on my PC. I am willing to spend the extra money for some really good wild rice. Thanks so much for this article and spreading the news about the difference for the lovers of wild rice.
Thanks Roxxanne, glad you found it helpful.
Incredibly informative, Alan... [who knew!! lol!!] Thank you so much.... AND I do have one question for you, and that is:
When is the best time of year to purchase on-line?
Thankx in advance, doug
Thanks Doug. So, the best time to purchase from small sellers is after the harvest, starting around Oct. Many small suppliers will run out quickly.
Hello, terrific article. Thank you so much! If you're still adding to your source list, I've bought good stuff from MooseLakeWildRice.com - they sell a variety, but I've bought the Hand-Picked Wood Parched Lake and River Wild Rice, which you can buy in bulk (5 lbs, 10 lbs) at a discount. Great stuff!
Thanks Deborah. I'll check them out.
THANKS, this article was so informative and just what I needed. I've been gifted with both Lunds and Byerlys black and Moonoomin and thought one of the bags had gone bad somehow. I sure was wrong! I'll save the best stuff for the day when the chicken of the woods show up again:)
That's exactly why I wrote it. Thanks Mary. Now you can educate others too.
This article could use some updates for clarity and additional information is required if it is to fulfill its purpose.
Indeed, the article is full of a dizzying array of potentially conflicting terms. For example: black rice, black wild rice, blackened rice, black paddy rice, and a second black (forbidden) rice? How about natural rice, hand-harvested rice, manoomin, wood-partched, and so on, which seem to be about far more than whether the rice is parched? Why do some products appear black and shiny if they're parched?
Toward the end, you mention two types of wild rice relative to water amounts: "natural" and "blackened." But natural in this context is not clear: is this the wood-parched, or is it any natural rice, since you've discussed many types? If radically different water amounts are required, it seems to me better to focus on specific products and provide details appropriate to each product. Also, the article doesn't discuss whether one can use a rice cooker.
No clear explanations of the flavor differences are given across the types discussed or any actual products. It also isn't clear whether companies' marketing of "black rice" aligns with your usage of "blackened rice" or similar terms: it appears that they might consider "black rice" a varietal. So what precisely can one expect from all these rices? How do they pair with other foods, and how can they best be used?
I applaud the effort to provide some much-needed information, but this article currently doesn't enable the reader to select a product from the many different offerings of the companies mentioned.
Thanks for commenting Mal. Feel free to re-write this article with those edits, a bibliography, image layout, your own wild rice references and wisdom from your personal experience. Probably best to keep it under 2000 words. Email me a draft.
Another source to buy wild rice for your list - my favorite comes from White Earth Nation, it's in and out of stock seasonally since they only harvest what they need https://realwildrice.shop/wild-rice/
Red Lake Nation also sells around the Cities and they tend to have a more stable supply and go out of stock less frequently since theirs is the blackened paddy rice, although they do have different grades and styles, may still be worth it to mention a native producer https://redlakenationfoods.com/product-category/wild-rice-products/
White Earth Reservation was for a few years the only link I had in this article. I understand seasonal availability, but their products have been out of stock for..... over 2 years. I keep an eye on them, but I had to remove the link as I kept getting emails about it. They (used to) sell the cheapest, high quality wild rice flour. I'll leave your links in the comment section and I really hope they start selling products again. Re: Red Lake, I'll use Red Lake rice if I'm going to make wild rice flour but that's it. They don't really have an option for parched rice like the other suppliers here. Their "traditional finnish", which is the most expensive, takes longer to cook than the other parched rices I've had and, in my opinion, the flavor wasn't close.