This is a guest article by Priya Mohandoss.
Wattle week is an opportunity for us to celebrate and reflect on all things wattle. While this striking native plant, with its gleam of green and gold, fittingly represents Australia as our national floral emblem, it is the wattleseed, in ground and extract form, that is more familiar to those in the world of Australian cuisine.
Although there is a plethora of acacia shrubs and trees spread throughout Australia, most species contain toxic compounds too potent for human intake. However, there are still a number of them that can be used in our diet. Among these species are elegant wattle (Acacia victoriae, also known as prickly acacia), coastal wattle (A. sophorae), wirilda (A. retinodes), dogwood (A. coriacea), colony wattle (A. murrayana) and mulga (A. aneura). Elegant wattle is the most popular derivative that is currently being grown, and is considered the benchmark for commercial wattleseed in the food industry.
All species of wattle, whether edible or not, have pods with a hardened outer coating that hang from the branches of the plant. The length of each pod can vary, but on average they are approximately 7.5cm long and appear in shades of brown or yellow. Each is comprised of 10-12 granules of wattleseed that are about 2-5mm in diameter. These granules can be sourced in either raw or ripened form. Furthermore, whether still dangling or left unopened on the ground, the pods can last for more than two decades and so can survive climatic conditions such as drought or heavy rainfall. It is only the severity of fire that causes them to open, allowing the wattleseeds to whirl into the air for further propagation once rainfall has swept past the area.
For thousands of years, wattleseed, found in abundance in the arid regions of Australia, has been proclaimed a primary ingredient in traditional food preparation for some Indigenous groups. While the process of extracting wattleseed from the pods of the acacia branches was an arduous task, those that had to provide meals for others would collect, clean and mill the wattleseed until it formed flour. Once this had been achieved, the powdery substance would be combined with water to make dough. The dough was then formed into a bun-like shape and baked in the amber coals of the fire to make damper or seed cakes. However, in its raw and green form, wattleseed could also be conveniently carried and eaten as a snack.
Wattleseed, being high in sustenance and with a low glycemic index due to the unsaturated fat-rich content found in the aril (the element that joins the seed to the pod), and its high amounts of protein and carbohydrates, is highly valued as a food source. It is versatile enough for both sweet and savoury dishes. In its roasted ground form, it can be used as a rub for fish and meat, such as in wattleseed crusted kangaroo fillets or combined with other spices to make blends of dukkah. As an extract, it can be used instead of other essences, such as vanilla, to add flavour into ice creams or cakes for that distinct nutty aroma. Wattleseed tiramisu and wattleseed chocolate cookies are some tasty examples. It has also been hailed as a caffeine-free alternative due to its intense mocha-like and hazelnut undertones, yet without having the bitterness that crushed coffee beans can sometimes produce. It can therefore be used to create wattlecinos.
Despite this, wattleseed is still seen in the market as a specialty condiment. It can therefore be hard to find and is sold at a somewhat expensive price. However, with so much to offer, there is a need for wattleseed to pave its way into more of our dishes and see more regular use from professional chefs and amateurs alike.
Priya Mohandoss is a Masters of Media and Communications student at Monash University. She currently reports for the Royal Society of Victoria and writes a column called “Environment Matters” for the Kinglake Ranges community news magazine, Mountain Monthly. She is an avid explorer of all aspects of nature.
Banner image courtesy of Ian Sutton - Flickr: Elegant Wattle, Prickly Wattle, Gundabluie, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19601476