A flavorful and healthy adventure with wild rice
Posted September 8, 2016
Did you know that September’s grain of the month is rice? While it seems like there’s a featured month for everything these days, whole-grain rice, including wild rice, is worth exploring. For a flavorful and healthy adventure, discover whole-grain rice varieties that go beyond the familiar refined white rice.
Rice has been part of traditional diets, primarily in Asia, for centuries. Today, rice is the staple of more than half of the world’s population — more than 3.5 billion people depend on rice for more than 20 percent of their daily calories.
Many varieties of rice are available, and whole-grain rice comes in several colorful options, including brown, red or black varieties. Wild rice is another flavorful version to explore. Surprising to some is that wild rice is not a rice (Oryza) plant at all. It’s actually a type of semi-aquatic grass (Zizania) and is one of the few edible grains native to North America. Rice and wild rice, while not genetically related, do have some things in common. For example, both species grow in water and produce a grain.
Historically, wild rice grows in lakes, tidal rivers and bays in water between 2 and 4 feet deep and is believed to originate in the area of the upper Great Lakes in what is now the U.S. and Canada. Today, wild rice is also grown in California in man-made paddies as well as several other locations across the world.
According to the California Wild Rice Advisory Board, when harvested and prepared for consumption, “wild rice is a long, slender, coffee-colored kernel that butterflies open during cooking to reveal a cream-colored interior. The result is two-tone rice that can go anywhere. The strong woodsy flavor and chewy texture makes it frequently used in combination with other rices.”
Wild rice is usually found in the rice section of dry goods or in the bulk aisle in the grocery store and may be sold by itself or mixed with a rice blend. It is typically slightly more expensive than other rice varieties as it is more labor intensive to grow and harvest.
When comparing wild rice to brown rice, the nutritional profiles are fairly comparable. Both rice and wild rice are rich in fiber as well as other nutrients when compared to refined white rice. According to the Whole Grain Council, wild rice is a good source of ﬁber, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, vitamin B6 and niacin.
Wild rice has slightly more protein than brown rice and may offer higher antioxidant benefits. In addition, while wild rice has not been studied as extensively as other grains, there are a growing number of promising studies pointing to health effects, including possible lipid-lowering and cardiovascular benefits with long-term consumption.
When it comes to the benefits of whole grains in general, there are a larger number of studies that link whole grain consumption with a variety of health benefits, including increased longevity. While these research studies do not prove causal relationships, they do suggest that a diet that includes whole grains along with a variety of other foods and a healthy lifestyle can support health. The good news is that wild rice counts towards total whole grain intake and can be part of this type of healthy plant-based eating pattern.
On the other hand, as plant-based diets increase, there have been some concerns related to nutrient deficiencies or other negative health impacts. For example, compounds referred to as “anti-nutrients,” like phytate found primarily in whole grains and legumes, can bind minerals such as iron, zinc and manganese, reducing their availability for absorption during digestion. This is in part why vegetarians and vegans have higher iron needs.
One helpful strategy to reduce the effect of phytates is to consume whole grains such as rice or wild rice along with vitamin C containing foods like bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli or dark leafy greens. Vitamin C helps to activate an enzyme that breaks down phytates, allowing minerals to be better absorbed. There are also ways to reduce the action of phytates, including traditional preparation methods such as soaking, fermentation and sprouting.
Typically, however, nutrient deficiencies are not a concern for the general population eating plant-based diets when a variety of nutrient-rich foods are consumed regularly. There are many factors that affect the absorption and overall bioavailability of nutrients. In addition, there may also be health benefits from compounds such as phytates, including potential anti-cancer effects. Ultimately, talking with a doctor or other health care provider is the best way to ensure that personal nutrition needs are met.
As the research evolves, a sure-fire way to improve diet is by switching from refined grains to whole grains such as wild rice. Get started with a healthy and flavorful adventure with this wild rice recipe.