Wild rice is one of my favorite grains, and if you’ve ever had my mom’s wild rice risotto, you would know exactly why. Wild rice is all of the expected goodness of white or brown rice but better — it tastes more nutty and earthy, and it even looks cooler.
I’m always looking for excuses to build wild rice into my cooking habits, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you really should.
Today, we’re going to cover the basics of wild rice: namely what it is, nutritional facts, and ways you can cook with it. After you read this blog, you’ll know exactly how to fit it into your diet, how healthy it is, and why we love it so much.
What is wild rice?
Contrary to the name, wild rice isn’t actually rice. Wild rice is a whole grain that grows naturally in freshwater marshes.
The brown and white rice we all know comes from the Oryza family, but wild rice is actually in the Zizania family. You can think of it like regular rice’s plant cousin. It’s a lot like how sweet potatoes aren’t actually potatoes — they’re actually root vegetables.
Wild rice are the seeds of aquatic grass. You can find them near lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. Wild rice is expensive due to its difficulty to produce at scale, and there are 4 different species of wild rice altogether, with 3 found in North America and the last found in Asia.
The reason we’ve adopted this misnomer is that wild rice cooks and behaves similarly to regular rice. While there are notable differences in flavor and nutrition, we eat it in similar dishes and essentially treat it the same way.
Wild rice was originally harvested by Native Americans. For example, in Wisconsin wild rice is truly wild and not cultivated as in other states. It is called manoomin by the local Chippewa Native Americans and is actually a protected crop that can only be harvested by state residents with a special license [*].
Is wild rice a grain?
Yes. It is considered a whole grain. What we call wild rice are the seeds found in aquatic grass. Traditional rice comes from a different grain family.
Why do people love wild rice?
Wild rice is known for its incredible earthy flavor and texture, and it has a richer flavor profile than brown or wild rice, making it great in risottos, salads, and pilafs. It also has a unique plate appearance that chefs love to take advantage of.
Wild rice nutrition
Wild rice is nutritionally dense
Here is a nutritional breakdown of 100g of wild rice [*]:
- Calories: 101
- Carbs: 21 grams
- Protein: 4 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Vitamin B6: 7% Daily Value (DV)
- Folate: 6% DV
- Magnesium: 8% DV
- Phosphorus: 8% DV
- Zinc: 9% DV
- Copper: 6% DV
- Manganese: 14% DV
As you can see, wild rice is a great source of protein, magnesium, zinc, has similar fiber to brown rice, and is very low in fat. Wild rice also contains all nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins [*].
Wild rice is lower in calories
While the difference isn’t huge, cooked wild rice does have fewer calories than brown or white rice. If you take that same 100g serving size referenced above, wild rice has 101 calories, brown rice has 112, and white rice has 130.
Wild rice is high in protein
Wild rice has around twice as much protein as brown or white rice, and some varieties like black jumbo wild rice have almost 3x as much protein as other rice varieties, making it ideal for people who are looking to add a bit more plant-based protein into their diet.
Wild rice is a good source of antioxidants
And lastly, wild rice has antioxidants that protect against aging, and they have way more of these than their white rice cousins [*].
Antioxidants are substances that possibly protect your cells from free radicals. Free radicals have been linked to heart disease, cancer, and other diseases [*]. They are the molecules produced when your body breaks down food or that comes from harmful sources like tobacco or radiation.
Is wild rice healthy?
Yes! While there have been traces of heavy metals found in wild rice in the U.S. and can sometimes be contaminated with ergot (a type of toxic fungus), as long as you eat a varied diet you have nothing to worry about [*].
Eating whole grains has also been tied to a reduction in the risk of heart disease, obesity, and certain cancers [*]. These reviews recommend eating about 2 to 3 servings per day (~45 g) of whole grains to achieve these benefits.
In short, the nutritional benefits vastly outweigh any potential harm from the limited traces of metals or toxic fungus — you’d have to eat almost exclusively wild rice to put yourself at any sort of risk.
Is wild rice gluten-free?
Yes! Gluten is the binding protein found in bread that creates bread’s unique elasticity. You won’t find that in wild rice!
How many carbs are in wild rice?
Between 20-70g per 100g serving, depending on the variety. It is generally considered a high-carb food and should not be relied upon as part of a low-carb diet.
Where is wild rice on the glycemic index?
Wild rice’s glycemic index score is 57, so it’s similar to oats or brown rice. In other words, generally approach wild rice how you would eat other grains.
Comparing wild rice to other grains
Another reason why wild rice is a coveted food is its nutritional advantages over white and brown rice. Here are the notable differences when comparing wild rice to other common grains:
Wild rice vs. brown rice
Here is how wild rice compares to brown rice [*]:
- Fewer calories
- 2x protein
- Brown rice has more vitamin B, so if you’re a vegetarian it may make sense to add in a bit more brown rice or take vitamin B supplements.
Wild rice vs. white rice
Here’s how wild rice compares to white rice [*]:
- More than 2x protein
- Fewer calories
- 30x antioxidants
Wild rice vs. quinoa
Here’s how wild rice compares to quinoa [*].
- Similar in nutritional content
- Both have all essential amino acids
- Quinoa is slightly higher in calories.
- Try eating both to switch things up!
How to cook wild rice
As we mentioned before, we love to cook with wild rice. Wild rice is chewier, earthier, and nuttier than brown and white rice, and it makes an unbeatable combo when paired with great mushrooms.
Our 100% grade A black jumbo wild rice is prepared like this:
- Step 1: Rinse the wild rice in hot tap water.
- Step 2: Add 5 cups of water or stock and 1 tsp of salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Step 3: Add 2 cups of wild rice, stir, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 50 minutes.
- Step 4: Enjoy!
Here are some more tips for cooking with wild rice:
- Use a higher water ratio (usually 3:1). Because the grains are tougher, they need a high ratio of water to achieve the right consistency.
- Freeze wild rice for up to 6 months. Don’t worry if you cook too much! Just toss it in a container and take it back out whenever you need a good side.
- Never cook wild rice with white rice. White rice can cook in a third of the time as wild rice, so if you mix them together you’ll have a mixture of textures that isn’t ideal. Plus, it’s better not to dilute the earthy flavor that wild rice can lend to a dish.
Our favorite wild rice recipes
Ready to try wild rice? Pick some up and give any one of these amazing recipes a shot!
This filling Hunter’s Stew recommends venison and venison stock, but you can swap that for beef and be just fine. The wild rice complements the broth wonderfully and is the perfect night-in dish.
This recipe takes a classic tortilla soup and gives it an earthy spin with wild rice. Make your own corn tortillas to make this even better, and whatever you do, don’t skip the lime garnish on top! The acid makes a big difference.
For me, there are few foods more comforting than a creamy rice dish, and this rich mushroom and wild rice recipe from The Salty Marshmallow gets you there. You won’t find a better combination than fresh wild rice and mushrooms.
If you’re looking for the perfect side to a nice ribeye or white fish, then look no further than this wild rice pilaf. It uses nuts and fresh greens to complement what wild rice does best already, and you’ll find yourself going back again and again!
Cast iron bakes are one of my go-to’s for date nights or small get-togethers. You have time to relax while it’s cooking, and the casual nature of it releases a bit of the pressure you can feel when cooking for other people. This recipe uses cremini mushrooms and fresh rosemary to boost the natural flavors of wild rice.
Where to buy wild rice
That depends on how strict your definition of wild rice is. You can find it in supermarkets, but you have to be careful. Many “wild rice” variations are treated with chemicals and mix in other grains instead of being solely wild rice. If you want real wild rice, you need to make sure you are sourcing your wild rice from sustainable, completely natural sites.
Grown on cool nights on some of the highest elevations in Northern California, our estate-grown wild rice has been cured, parched, or parboiled, hulled, graded, and cleaned. They are all the same-size grains (longest and plumpest), have a rich, dark-brown color, distinctive nutty taste, hearty texture, and outstanding plate appearance.
This is the highest quality and best-selling wild rice in North America, and this versatile ingredient adds nutrition, texture, and flavor to a variety of meals. We do not blend in less expensive grains. It is 100% wild rice!
Any of these recipes will take advantage of the wild rice you get and not overcrowd it with conflicting flavors. The idea is to make dishes that reveal as much of that earthy flavor and texture as possible.
Now, all that’s left to do is grab some wild rice and pick a recipe!
Nathan Phelps is a writer, ethical foodie, and outdoors-aficionado hailing from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.