Zizania Aquatica - A forgotten ancient grain
Zizania Aquatica - known by various names, including black rice, wild rice, manoomin, Canada rice, Indian rice, water rice, or water oats - an aquatic plant species native to the Great Lakes region of North America. Preferring cooler temperatures, Zizania grows in shallow waters of small lakes and slow-flowing streams with soft mud bottoms, typically at ideal depths of 0.50 to 1.20 meters.
Although, Zizania is not rice. It is an herbaceous plant, making wild rice not precisely classified as a cereal because it is, in fact, an aquatic weed bearing edible grains that are more closely related to oats. Wild rice is not directly related to Asian rice (Oryza sativa), although they are close cousins, sharing the tribe Oryzeae. Wild rice is the seed of herbaceous plants belonging to the genus Zizania with four known species: Zizania palustris L., Zizania aquatica L., Zizania texana H., and Zizania latifolia G. The ﬁrst three species are native to North America while the fourth to Asia. The species Zizania palustris L. and Zizania aquatica L. are annuals - which means they thrive throughout the year - , whereas the others are perennials. This plant has been included by the WWF among the 50 foods of the future. We answer why.
"The water requirement of traditional rice peaks in the summer, when water becomes scarce," explain Giovanni Giuseppe Savini and Alessandro Bossi at the press conference introducing Rebel Grains, held at the Corteccia restaurant in Milan. "Conversely, Zizania is sown in winter, when fortunately, there are no scarcity issues." The product requires minimal pesticide usage. The advantage lies in crop diversification: "Monoculture leads to the development of resistances," adds Savini, "which necessitates increased pesticide doses. Organic rice cultivation is nearly unattainable today. Diversification, through crop rotations, allows us to leave weed infestations behind. Moreover, these crops grow rapidly and to significant heights. One of the issues with rice is that it's planted late, making it more susceptible to weed overgrowth. A crop that grows earlier and in a preceding season compared to weeds manages to thrive."– Corriere della Sera
But what is its origin? Believed to have ancient origins, the discovery of wild rice is shrouded in legend, with Indian tales attributing its gift to Mânàbush. It is believed that the Anishinaabe people (also called Ojibwe or Chippewa) and the Menomini tribes first harvested wild rice in lakes and streams surrounding Lake Superior. For indigenous tribes, the zizania harvest is a ritual symbolizing their profound connection with nature.
Referred to as "manoomin" in the Anishinaabe language, wild rice holds cultural significance for Native American tribes within its range, serving as a crucial food source. Traditionally harvested by canoe, legend suggests that canoes were invented to facilitate zizania collection. The harvesting process involves one person guiding the boat through dense grass beds, while the other harvester sits in the canoe, using a long narrow stick to bend the wild rice stalks over the boat and gently knock the grains into the boat with a second stick. This ensures re-seeding of the bed for the next year.
After harvesting, the grains, still soaked in water, undergo a heating process over the fire, acquiring a dark color and distinctive taste. Wild Rice, once almost unknown, has gradually become a staple in the practices of Americans and Canadians, often featured in Thanksgiving meals. While its cultivation has expanded to other countries, these efforts remain limited. - Italia A Tavola
- Surendiran, M. Alsaif, and M.H. Moghadasian are with the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences and Canadian Centre for Agri-food Research in Health and Medicine, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada: Nutritional constituents and health benefits of wild rice (Zizania spp.), 2014
- Tucker, M. J. Zanis, N. C. Emery, K. D. Gibson, Effects of water depth and seed provenance on the growth of wild rice (Zizania aquatica L.) 2010
- Yu, M. Chu, C. Chu, Y. Du, J. Shi, X. Liu, Y. Liu, H. Zhang, Z. Zhang, N. Yan: Wild rice (Zizania spp.): A review of its nutritional constituents, phytochemicals, antioxidant activities, and health-promoting effects, 2020