by Marta Szumiata
on March 3, 2020

Surprising pernickety wild rice

Wild rice, to the surprise of many, doesn’t actually have anything to do with rice. The true name is ‘Zizania’ which includes four types of grass: Palustris, Texana, Aquatica and Latifolia. Thanks to grain-like seeds, it is also called ‘Water oats’. Traditionally grown in water and harvested by canoe, it is a difficult crop to grow, but the outstanding flavor is worth the challenge.

Intricate processing

Wild rice (sometimes called Canadian rice) is a cool-climate water grass that produces very long grains (about 2 cm) with a dark (brown to black) seed coat. The distinguishing feature among the cereals is double the amount of water content at maturity (around 40%). Because of this, it requires a more complex processing method. Firstly, harvested grains is matured in moist piles for one or two weeks while immature grains are still ripening. During this time, microbes on the surface weaken the tough outer husks and produce the distinctive wild rice flavor and dark color. The next step is parching the grains over a fire to dry them, producing caramellic, nutty, and smoky aromas and to make the hull even more brittle. At the end, they are threshed to remove the outer husks.

Drying the grains over fire produce caramellic, nutty, and smoky aromas

A pleasant chewiness

Wild rice is known for its firm chewy texture, due to intact bran layer and parching. During this process, the starch gelates and then anneals. It becomes hard, glassy, and resists the absorption of water, and therefore, it needs a longer cooking time—often more than an hour. Wild rice is often pre-prepared by producers by abrading the grains to improve water absorption and shorten the cooking time. Pre-soaking in warm water can also be helpful.

Try them deep fried

The usual way of preparing wild rice is by cooking in hot water. Serve it warm or cold in a salad, whether or not mixed with vegetables, fresh herbs or other ingredients.

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Another method is deep-frying to make a tasty garnish. You can put them in hot oil until puffed, or start with soaking for 30 minutes, then pat-dry between towel and frying for a better texture. It is also often used in baked dishes, such as timbale, casserole, and savory or sweet cakes.

Aroma profile

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Fatty green prevalence

This aroma is present in the cooked wild rice due to the rich content of aldehydes. Green / grassy notes are also present, making the bouquet quite refreshing. Because of these notes, excellent pairs for wild rice are apricot, raspberry, kaki, fried gombo, oyster leaf, and tempeh. We also suggest mixing with Gruyère or Cheddar (mild or sharp).

Double nutty roasted undertones

The marvellous nutty aroma originates from the pyrazine in raw wild rice, while coumarin offers more nuttiness once cooked. It resembles popcorn and hay-like scents with a delicate caramellic aftertaste. It also indicates the origin of the source plant—grass. Roasted notes also become more palpable with cooking. Acetyl-1-pyrroline gives the characteristic popcorn-like nuance and is also present in roasted pistachio, fried mushroom, doenjang, alfalfa sprouts, white mustard, and chia seeds. You can also sense a coffee aroma, making it a good pair with roasted sesame seeds, tahini, and cooked soybeans. An unlikely—but delicious—companion would be coconut, cocoa (powder or nibs), cupuaçu, hazelnuts, and corn tortilla. Wild rice is well-flavoured with tarhana, buckwheat, or eucalyptus honey.

Vegetable notes accompanied by floral animal undertones

Another pyrazine gives the vegetable-like aroma and can also be found in bell pepper, green peas, broccolini, cooked potato, quinoa, spelt, or bulgur as well. There is quite a big concentration of animal-like molecules, but they tend to be perceived more like floral notes. Therefore, wild rice makes for a nice match with peach, raisin, lemon balm, damask rose, hibiscus, endive, and grilled zucchini.

Phenolic woody aroma with slight smoky flavor

2-metoxy-4-vinylphenol is responsible for the daunting phenolic, woody aroma and faint smoky notes—not only in wild rice, but also Arabica coffee, allspice, hazelnut oil, Mirin, and makgeolli. You can pair it with eggplant, lotus root, cooked bamboo shoot, baba ganoush, soy sauce, dried cap, sea fig, and crème de vanilla as well.

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by Marta Szumiata
A confectioner, food technologist and culinary reenactor. Loving food, Marta is still exploring culinary world looking for new inspirations and bewildering dishes. She likes to try her created recipes on her family and friends, especially fermented ones

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