15 Facts About Wild Rice

Zizania palustris 20150198216


Wild rice is an aquatic grass that grows naturally in shallow water in lakes and rivers primarily around the Great Lakes region of North America. Known for its unique flavor, texture, and nutritional benefits, wild rice has an intriguing history and has been used for centuries by Native American tribes as a food staple.

Though often called rice, wild rice is not related to Asian cultivated rice. It’s a whole grain that is gluten-free and high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. From its cultivation methods to its many health perks, wild rice is a fascinating ingredient with its robust history intertwined with that of Native peoples.

Read on to discover 15 fascinating facts about nutritious wild rice, from its origins and traditional uses to how it’s farmed and harvested today.

Facts About Wild Rice

Distant dry season bushfire - looking over Kakadu wild rice floodplains - South Alligator River
Distant dry season bushfire – looking over Kakadu wild rice floodplains – South Alligator River
  1. Wild rice is an annual aquatic grass that can grow up to 10 feet tall. The grass produces edible seeds that are long and slender. When harvested and processed, these seeds are what we call wild rice.
  2. Wild rice is indigenous to the Great Lakes region of North America. It grows naturally in shallow streams, rivers, and lakes primarily around the Upper Mississippi River, St. Lawrence River, and the Great Lakes.
  3. Wild rice has been harvested by Native American Ojibwe and Dakota tribes for at least 800 years. These tribes relied heavily on wild rice, regarding it as a sacred food. They developed specialized techniques for harvesting wild rice that are still used today.
  4. Most wild rice is still harvested using traditional methods. This involves canoeing through wild rice beds and using wooden sticks, called knockers, to gently tap ripe seeds into the canoe without damaging the plants.
  5. Wild rice is not actually related to cultivated white or brown rice. Rather, it’s a aquatic grass seed that’s more closely related to wheat. Regardless, it has a similar cooking method and texture to rice once prepared.
  6. There are four different species of wild rice. The most common is Zizania palustris, which is indigenous to the Great Lakes region. A similar species, Z. texana, is found in Texas rivers.
  7. Wild rice is rich in protein, containing more than most other whole grains. One cooked cup of wild rice provides seven grams of protein. It’s especially high in lysine, an important amino acid.
  8. When cooked, wild rice expands greatly in size. Just 1/4 cup of dried wild rice yields about 3/4 to 1 cup cooked. It expands in width but stays slender in shape.
  9. Most wild rice today is paddy grown rather than lake or river harvested. Paddy farming allows wild rice to be grown in man-made paddies flooded with water to mimic its natural habitat.
  10. Minnesota is the largest producer of wild rice in the world. The state adopted it as its official state grain in 1977 in recognition of its agricultural and historical importance there.
  11. Wild rice has twice the dietary fiber of brown rice. One cooked cup provides five grams of fiber. This helps reduce cholesterol, regulates digestion, and aids heart health.
  12. Wild rice is high in B vitamins, especially niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid. These B vitamins help convert food into energy and form red blood cells. Wild rice’s nutty flavor comes from its high niacin content.
  13. Wild rice contains more antioxidants than many common grains. Research shows wild rice has more polyphenols and anthocyanins than brown or white rice. These combat cellular damage.
  14. Some key minerals found abundantly in wild rice are phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and potassium. One cup of cooked wild rice delivers between 15-35% of the recommended daily amount of these minerals.
  15. Wild rice has been a traditional food for indigenous tribes for centuries. It remains an important cultural crop for Native peoples today and is featured in tribal ceremonies, dances, and feasts.


With its rich history among North America’s indigenous peoples and wealth of nutritional benefits, wild rice is an extraordinary whole grain full of flavor and health perks. This power-packed seed is low in fat, packed with fiber and protein, and contains more antioxidants and key vitamins and minerals than regular white and brown rice.

FAQ about Wild Rice

What is wild rice?

Wild rice is the grain harvested from four species of grasses in the genus Zizania, historically gathered and eaten in North America and to a lesser extent in China.

How is wild rice different from domesticated rice?

Wild rice is not directly related to domesticated rice, although both belong to the same botanical tribe Oryzeae. Wild-rice grains have a chewy outer sheath with a tender inner grain that has a slightly vegetal taste.

Where is wild rice found?

Three species of wild rice are native to North America, while one species is native to Asia. The plants grow in shallow water in small lakes and slow-flowing streams.

How is wild rice harvested?

Native Americans and others harvest wild rice by canoeing into a stand of plants, and bending the ripe grain heads with small wooden poles called “knockers” or “flails”, to thresh the seeds into the canoe.

What are the nutritional benefits of wild rice?

Wild rice is relatively high in protein, dietary fiber, certain minerals and B vitamins. It is low in fat and does not contain gluten.

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