Ark of Taste
Anishinaabeg Manoomin (Wild Rice)
Wild rice is a misnomer, as it is not actually rice, but rather an aquatic grass similar to corn. This tall, aquatic grass has long blades that grow best in the shallow waters of the Great Lakes region of the US (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio). Wild rice is the only grain native to North America and comes in a myriad of colors in the darker huesgreen, tan, brown.
The Anishinaabeg peopleone of the rice’s American Indian custodiansalso call wild rice Manoomin, which literally means “the good grain”. Other tribes in the Algonquin linguistic group such as the Menominee and the Sioux also care for the rice.
Manoomin tastes richly complex with subtle earthy notes of mushrooms and wood smoke. Manoomin is harvested today with many of the originally gathering traditions. In pairs, the Anishinaabeg canoe through the autumnal fields, bending the blades of grass over the canoes and beating the seeds from the grass with their paddles. On a successful day of harvest, a pair can gather up to two hundred and fifty kilos of manoomin. Once harvested, the seeds are sun dried or parched over a slow fire and then threshed and winnowed in the windto ensure that the husks blow away.
The beauty of manoomin is its easy cultivation, as the rice grows naturally, with no need to be planted or tended, and provides a bountiful harvest that can be stored through the winter. Unfortunately, the existence of wild rice is threatened in three major ways. Firstly, biotechnology and the genetic manipulation of the wild rice genome jeopardize the rice’s originality. Secondly, almost 95% of the “wild” rice sold in the US today is grown in paddies, primarily in California, where American Indian traditions are not observed. Lastly, the recreational zoning and damming of lakes as well as agricultural runoff are all leading to the rapid devastation of the natural ecosystems of the Great Lakes and Minnesota lakes.
The Anishinaabeg Manoomin Presidium is working to promote the consumption of traditionally harvested and prepared wild rice.
Photo credit: SF Foundation for Biodiversity