Unlike the white or brown rice found at your local grocery store, lake and paddy rice varies in color from violet to brown to black and has a much earthier, woodsy flavor profile; the grain can have a grass-like smokiness to it. These grains are slightly firmer than other types of “rice”, with lake rice varying in grain size and the grains of paddy rice being more consistently uniform.
A serving of wild rice will yield fewer calories and twice the protein content of white or brown rice. Brown and wild rice have similar fiber content, in contrast to white rice that contains very little. According to Healthline, a study of wild rice samples concluded that the antioxidant density of wild rice is nearly thirty times that of white rice. Antioxidants help prevent damage to cells from free radicals in the body and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Also packed with vitamins and minerals, this whole grain is undoubtedly healthier than white or brown rice.
The large, feathery stalks of this grass could once be found in abundance along lakes and rivers in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and parts of Canada, where Native Americans and First Nations Peoples still participate in a fall harvest of wild lake rice. Historically and even today, many Indigenous people participate in an annual ricing trip, where they canoe along the tall grasses and harvest the grains by hand. A “knocker” stick is used to tap the stalk, which loosens the grains and allows them to be scraped into the bed of the canoe. Once the canoe is full, it is taken to shore and the rice is bagged before the canoe sets out to repeat the process.
The biggest threat to the longevity of wild rice as a food source is the purity and quality of available water. Whether wild or cultivated, this grain grows in two to four feet of water and is susceptible to site runoff pollution and drought. Because wild rice needs to grow in an aquatic environment, farmers of commercially grown, or cultivated, wild rice must flood their fields as it grows to ensure the water is neither too low or too high for the crop to prosper.
Wild rice is culturally significant to Indigenous people because of this long-standing traditions as well as the grain’s history of being an integral nutritionally dense food source. In fact, a license is required to harvest wild lake grass in Minnesota, which must be done in the traditional Native American way described above. Unfortunately, recent ricing expeditions have reported fewer and fewer harvestable rice beds as climate change, anthropogenic influences, and even backlash against the practice from the community have threatened this way of life for Indigenous people. In Minnesota, twenty thousand acres of cultivated rice fields encircle sixty thousand acres of wild-grown aquatic grassland. Many Indigenous people in the region are wary of the cross pollination of commercially grown rice with the native grass that has been a staple in their culture for centuries.
The firmness and unique color of this grain will give an earthy feel to soups, casseroles, or even simply served as a side. When you fill your pantry with Native American food staples you're supporting the sustainability of Indigenous food sources. Even better, when you buy from Tocabe Marketplace, you're directly supporting Indigenous communities because for every two products sold, we donate one to a local community!
Not a cook? Visit the Tocabe restaurant and try our delicious Posu bowls featuring wild rice!
About theTocabe Marketplace
Our philosophy is Native first, local second. We source the right products from the right people. To us, ingredients don’t just make the food, they tell the story behind it.
Accessibility to high-quality, healthy Native and Indigenous ingredients is extremely limited based on location. Tocabe’s Indigenous Marketplace is simplifying the supply chain and making regional cuisine locally accessible by connecting you to Native and Indigenous ingredients with just the click of a button.
By shopping at our Indigenous Marketplace, you’re participating in food sovereignty and supporting Indigenous farmers, ranchers, and caretakers across the nation, making an impact in our communities. So, shop our marketplace today. And in the meantime, learn how to create Tocabe’s pancake recipe with Native-produced, wholesome ingredients that also make a difference.