Cooking with Manomin: Comparing Regional Differences in Expression

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Research focused on crop restoration, cultural revitalization, and treaty living. Researchers who believe in collaboration and knowledge sharing. Learn more about the Manomin Research Project.


By Margaret Lehman with Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation

Manomin plants adapt to the water and soil in which they grow. As a result, there may be variations in yield (how much the plants produce), as well as the size and quality of kernels (Vennum Jr. 1988, 13). In her answer to a question about manomin seedlings on the Manomin Project’s Instagram, Dr. Brittany Luby described these local variations as “regional differences in expression” (The Manomin Project 2019). The genetic differences in the plants, combined with their local environment, may also impact their taste. Consider: in an article published for Yes! Magazine, Winona LaDuke (2000) argues that the taste of manomin cannot be replicated because, “in the end, our rice tastes like a lake.” Similarly, Sean Sherman (2018), a.k.a. The Sioux Chef, describes the taste of manomin as having “hints of smoke and forest and the flintiness of those clear, cold lakes” (emphasis added).

Seeking to address this question of whether different bodies of water can influence and adjust the taste of the manomin growing there, Margaret Lehman purchased manomin from both the White Earth Reservation in what is now known as Minnesota (curtesy of Honor the Earth), and Curve Lake First Nation in what is now known as Ontario (curtesy of Whetung Ojibwa Centre).[1] Lehman prepared both samples using a basic recipe (e.g., 2 cups of water for 1 cup of rice) and then combined the cooked manomin in the “Barley, Wild Rice, and Kale Salad” recipe by Chef Shane Chartrand (2019). She compared the differences in expression: colour, size, shape, aroma, and of course, taste.

Here are Lehman’s observations:

Uncooked:
As soon as the packages were opened, there was a pleasant nutty and woody aroma. There were noticeable differences in the colour and shape of the uncooked grains between the two samples.

Whetung Ojibwa Centre (Curve Lake First Nation, Ontario)

  • dark, almost black
  • thicker grains
  • nutty and woody; very strong aroma

Honor the Earth (White Earth Reservation, Minnesota)

  • considerably lighter; more colour variation
  • narrower grains
  • nutty and woody; very strong aroma

While Being Cooked:
Briefly soaking in water unlocked deeper and richer earthy smells from both samples. While cooking, water adopted a slight brown colouration in both pots. As the colour of the water changed, the smells became more vibrant. The kitchen – and shortly after, the rest of the house – was filled with scents that resembled the lake (earth, wood, cold water).

Whetung Ojibwa Centre (Curve Lake First Nation, Ontario)

  • very strong, earthy aroma
  • as cooking progressed, the colour of the grains lightened (though they remained quite dark); some pieces curled and opened up

Honor the Earth (White Earth Reservation, Minnesota)

  • strong earthy aroma, but not as pungent as the other sample
  • as cooking progressed, the colour variation of the grains evened out; some pieces curled and opened up

Left pot: manomin from Honor the Earth (MN); Right pot: manomin from Whetung Ojibwa Centre (ON)

Cooked:
Both samples had a firmer and chewier texture than white rice. It is worth noting that manomin (Zizania sp.) is a type of aquatic grass, and therefore not closely related to white rice (Oryza sp.). However, in the kitchen, manomin is often cooked and used as rice. Manomin contains three times the amount of fiber as white rice and is up to 30 times higher in antioxidants, acting as a more filling and healthier alternative.

Whetung Ojibwa Centre (Curve Lake First Nation, Ontario)

  • still quite dark, but with more colour variations
  • thicker grains; more variations in shape (e.g., curly)
  • strong flavour aligned with aroma (very earthy and woody)

Honor the Earth (White Earth Reservation, Minnesota)

  • light brown and more even in colour (less variations)
  • finer grains; more delicate
  • slightly subtler flavour compared to the aroma it gave off while cooking

Top bowl: cooked manomin from Honor the Earth (MN); Bottom bowl: cooked manomin from Whetung Ojibwa Centre (ON)

By itself, each sample of cooked manomin is delicious and full of natural flavour. And, while they both maintain a similar profile (e.g., they can both be clearly identified as manomin), their “capacity [for] unique expression” (The Manomin Project 2019) is evident. Both samples have distinct differences in not only their smell, texture, and colour, but also in taste. They taste like a lake. But, not the same lake. Equally delicious, but unique from each other. There is beauty in that.


Featured Below:
The cooked samples of manomin were combined together in a “Barley, Wild Rice, and Kale Salad” by Chef Shane Chartrand. This recipe can be found in Chartrand’s recently published cookbook, Tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine (2019). A very delicious, and hearty meal!


Notes

[1] The packaging from White Earth Reservation indicates the species of manomin is Zizania aquatica. The manomin from Curve Lake First Nation does not explicitly name the species, but based on maps from Dore (1969) it is likely Zizania palustris. While the two samples of manomin may be different species, there is some disagreement about whether Z. palustris and Z. aquatica are two distinct species.  As such, it is possible both samples are in fact the same species. Manomin taxonomy is not straightforward. As such, it is not clear whether differences in colour, size, shape, aroma, and taste are in part due to sampling two distinct species. 

References

Chartrand, Shane M. 2019. Tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine. Toronto: House of Anansi Press.

LaDuke, Winona. 2000. “Wild Rice Moon.” Yes! Magazine. https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/food/2000/07/01/wild-rice-moon/.

The Manomin Project (@manominproject). 2019. “Manomin adapts to the bay in which it is grown. This means that you will see local variations across Canada, regional differences in expression…” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/B0lzN1TFLsR/.

Sherman, Sean. 2017. The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Vennum Jr., Thomas. 1988. Wild Rice and the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society.

Image provided by the Manomin Research Project.

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