Contrary to its name, wild rice is actually not rice at all. That’s right, this highly nutritious “rice” is actually the seed of a tall aquatic grass that is native to North America. Since it is an aquatic food, it thrives in fresh water lakes or rivers, and much of it is harvested in the Great Lakes of Minnesota.

Since wild rice is a wild grass, large-scale commercial cultivation of this grain-like seed is not really possible. Due to its unique nature and relative scarcity, wild rice is on the expensive side. Thankfully, wild rice has a striking taste so it can be mixed in with regular rice as a flavor booster. But first, let’s take a look at nutritional benefits of wild rice, how to cook it, and of course, what recipes you can incorporate it into.

1. Nutritional Benefits of Wild Rice

Mixed Herb Lentil and Wild Rice Soup 5

There is a lot to love about wild rice! To begin, it’s gluten and grain free. That means people with various dietary preferences can still enjoy the texture of rice without actually consuming any grains. Talk about a life hack. Wild rice is also the easiest rice to digest. In fact, it enhances your digestion! How? Well, wild rice is rich in magnesium, which contributes to regularity and a healthy nervous system, and it contains 3 grams of fiber in 1 cup, a  higher amount than in black rice, oats, or even quinoa.

Wild rice is also a great addition to any diet since it is never polished or refined, and therefore is extremely protein and nutrient-rich. Since it is a grass, it is richer in protein than all other rices and even many grains. When cooked, it contains 6.5 grams of protein in a 1 cup. It’s also a great source of folate, manganese, zinc, and iron. This is a particularly awesome perk for gluten-free and grain-free eaters who don’t get those nutrients from typical sources like oats, rye, wheat, and brown rice.

2. How to Cook Wild Rice

Wild Rice Pilaf

Now that you realize how badly you need wild rice in your life, let’s talk about how to actually cook it. Boiling is one of the easiest and effective methods since you simply have to cook the rice uncovered in a large quantity of water. Since undercooked wild rice has a hard texture and is difficult to chew, it is often recommended that you soak wild rice for several hours or overnight prior to cooking.

For every 1 cup of rice that you want, you should be adding 3 cups of liquid, be it water or vegetable broth. This method takes about 35-50 minutes but don’t leave the pot unattended. You’ll want to stir it occasionally until you see that the grains have burst open a bit, that indicates that it is done. The rice should be light brown with black hues in color and should be slightly soft to the touch. From here, you simply have to fluff it with a fork and serve.

3. Recipes Using Wild Rice

Wild Rice Burgers with Grilled Avocado and Heirloom Tomatoes

In addition to being amazingly nutritious, wild rice is also extremely tasty! It has the same texture as regular rice, a delicious nutty undertone, and even tastes slightly sweet, although it contains no sugar. As mentioned before, wild rice can be mixed with other types of rice, like in this Wild Rice With Kabocha Squash dish which contains equal parts brown rice and wild rice. Or if you want to enjoy wild rice on its own, try this Wild Rice Pilaf With Butternut Squash, Cranberries, and Pecans or this creamy White Bean Wild Rice Hash.

Wild rice doesn’t just have to be a side dish, though. It adds wonderful texture to soups, like in this Black Eyed Pea and Wild Rice Soup, this Mixed Herb Lentil and Wild Rice Soup, or this Cream of Wild Rice Soup. Or you can even combine it with other ingredients, like lentils, nuts, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes, to create burger patties. These Nuts, Seeds, and Stuff Burgers and these Wild Rice Burgers With Grilled Avocado and Heirloom Tomato Salsa are good examples.

Whether you’re avoiding regular rice or simply want to try a new food, wild rice is a wonderful addition to any diet. What will you make first? Tell us in the comments!

Lead Image Source: Timothy Vollmer/Flickr