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True vs. Cultivated Wild Rice

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2002

Is there a difference between true wild rice and cultivated wild rice?

Just as use of the word "rice" in wild rice isn't correct (it's an aquatic grass), the use of "wild" usually isn't accurate, either. Cultivated wild rice—grown under regulated conditions in man-made paddies—is the standard offering in most supermarkets. True to its name, real wild rice is grown in the wild. Hand-harvested from lakes and rivers in Minnesota and Canada, true wild rice can be very expensive, as much as $9 per pound. (Cultivated wild rice costs $3 to $5 per pound.)

Should you spend more money on "wild" wild rice when combining it with white rice to make our pilaf recipe? To find out, we simmered each type of rice in chicken stock (per our recipe) and tasted them. The hand-harvested wild rice had a pale appearance, a smoky flavor, and a light, tender texture. So that's the rice for our pilaf, right?

As it turned out, we preferred the cultivated rice for its deep, ebony color and resilient texture, especially when contrasted with the tender white rice used in the pilaf. Although the flavor of cultivated wild rice is slightly less robust than that of the real thing, when it comes to pilaf, we'll save our pennies and go for the cultivated rice.