Published January 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.
Who knew wild rice was actually an aquatic grass? See which brand swam to the top of our list.
Although it’s usually stocked in the supermarket with long-grain, brown, and basmati, wild rice is actually an aquatic grass. (Wild rice is North America’s only native grain. It grows naturally in lakes and is cultivated in man-made paddies in Minnesota, California, and Canada.) When we tasted five brands both plain and in our Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup, textural differences stood out the most; our top three, including our winner, cooked up springy and firm, while the other two blew out. What accounted for the difference? Processing. To create a shelf-stable product, manufacturers heat the grains, which gelatinizes their starches and drives out moisture, according to one of two methods: parching (the traditional approach) or parboiling. To parch, manufacturers load batches of rice into cylinders, which spin over a fire—an inexact process that produces “crumbly,” “less toothsome” results. Parboiling, a newer method, steams the grains in a controlled pressurized environment. The upshot: more uniform and complete gelatinization, which translates into rice that cooks more evenly.