What is Wattleseed?
Wattleseed is a nutritious roasted grain (acacia seeds) which boasts an amazing coffee, chocolate, hazelnut flavour which can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Edible wattleseed comes from a relatively small number of acacia trees which bear edible leguminous seed pods.
There are over 700 species of acacia and the majority of them have poisonous seeds, so one must be absolutely sure the variety being eaten is not toxic.
One variety of ‘food wattle’ is mulga whose seeds have high nutritional levels including protein, much of which is contained in the tail-like connecting tissue which is attached to the seed. Mulga trees grow in the Australian outback to heights of 20 ft. (6 m) and are thoroughly unlikely looking members of the legume family (Fabaceae) until one observes their pea-like pods that contain seeds typical of legumes.
Many acacias do not have leaves at all, but stalks which are flattened to a leaflike shape and act as leaves, their structure making them resistant to prolonged drought. A parasitic insect that attacks the mulga causes swollen lumps to appear on its branches. These are sweet and juicy inside and are referred to as ‘mulga apples’. Although the Australian Aborigines ate cooked green wattleseed for sustenance, it is only the roasted and ground wattleseeds that are used as a spice to flavor food.
The spice is a dark-brown, grainy powder which resembles ground coffee in appearance and has a distinct, light coffee-like aroma and pleasing, slightly bitter, nutty, coffee taste. a mottled brown. Wattleseed is available either as a ground powder or liquid essence for ease of use.
The ground wattleseecd is easily softened in hot water and is ready to use in just a few minutes. Because of wattleseed’s uniquely chocolate, coffee, hazelnut flavour there are a number of commercial products now available featuring wattleseed such as bread pre mixes, chocolates, ice-creams, granola and mousse mixes to name just a few.
cacias have a special significance for Australians, as it is the blossom of the golden wattle that has been adopted as the nation’s floral emblem. Indigenous to Australia, Africa, Asia and America, it is Australia’s acacias that are most decorative, bursting into various shapes of fluffy, glowing masses of blossoms ranging from creamy-white to the most vibrant of yellows.
Australian acacias were called ‘wattle’ because the early colonists included their thin branches and trunks with mud and clay in the construction of houses, a method known in Europe as ‘wattle and daub’. Wattle is sometimes referred to as mimosa, however although related, it is not the true mimosa. For over 6000 years aboriginal people used to parch and mill wattleseed from around 100 species of Acacia, to make a coarse flour which was then baked into seed cakes.
Harvesting and Preparation
While wattle trees grow and bear pods prolifically, the task of gathering and preparing the seeds for consumption is painstaking and labor intensive. The seed bearing pods are harvested when green and immature. The traditional method of processing is to simply throw the pods on an open grass fire where they will steam, producing something akin to an edible but almost tasteless pea. Steaming reduces a certain amount of background astringency and makes the seeds and attached membrane easier to remove from the pod. Roasting of the whole, steamed seeds is performed by adding them to a dish filled with glowing hot embers from a fire where they are left until some of the seed coat shows signs of cracking. After this the roasted seeds are removed to cool and are then sieved to separate them from the ash, an extremely dusty, sooty task. The cleaned, roasted seeds are milled to make ‘roasted and ground’ that is ready to use in cooking.
Buying and Storage
Roasted and ground wattleseed is available from specialty spice shops, adventurous delicatessens and food outlets that sell Australian native foods. Wattleseed is somewhat expensive when compared to the majority of spices (about five times the price of ground nutmeg) because of the labor in processing. In addition it is mostly wild crafted (gathered from its wild state) and not commercially cultivated. It is best if not stored for longer than two years. Keep roasted, ground wattleseed in an airtight pack, just as for other ground spices, and avoid extremes of heat, light and humidity.
Cooking with Wattelseed
Wattleseed is one of those iconic central Australian bush foods that is used in everything from pavlova to bread. It flavors sweet dishes such as ice-creams, sorbets, mousse, yoghurt, cheesecakes and whipped cream. It is delicious in pancakes and goes well with breads. In these applications, roasted wattleseed grounds should be infused with the liquid ingredients (preferably boiling or at least heated) and either the strained infusion added on its own or, as they will have softened, the liquid including wattleseed grounds may be included for extra color and texture.
Wattleseed complements chicken, lamb and fish particularly well especially when a small amount is blended with ground coriander seed, a pinch of lemon myrtleleaf and salt to taste. Sprinkle this over the food before cooking (it is particularly delicious with salmon steaks) and then pan-fry, grill or barbecue the meat. The wattleseed adds a subtle barbecued note.
I find the best preparation for most wattleseed dishes is to put the ground wattleseed into an espresso machine and extract it as if I was making an espresso coffee. Depending on the recipe you may have to allow the wattleseed liquid to cool before using it in your recipe. Here are some suggestions:
- If you make your own bread, try a substituting some of the wheat flour with 5% besan or chick pea flour along with 3% wattleseed.
- Use wattleseed as a crusting or coating mixed with polenta, crushed macadamia nuts or cracked buckwheat over any meat or poultry.
- Add wattleseeds to casseroles, lentil spreads, meatloaf for a nutty, roasted flavour.
- Try a baked sweet potato (kumara), mushroom and wattleseed risotto or pilaf
- Replace some of the flour (about 3%) with wattleseed when baking – muffins, banana bread, pancakes and other appropriate baked items.
- Use wattleseed extract in frappes, smoothies and juices.
- Boil wattleseed in water and store the mixture in the refrigerator, adding a dash of the liquid and some of the grounds to muesli, porridge and breakfast cereals.
Wattleseed is a great inclusion in anyone’s diet as it has an unusually low glycaemic index which means that the carbohydrates in it are slowly absorbed and therefore better for you than sugary, quick release alternatives. Wattleseed can also be incorporated into foods to lower the overall GI and either just improve its nutritional value or to actually make some food acceptable for people with non-insulin dependent diabetes.
mulga, coastal wattle, Gundabluey watle, wirilda, golden wattle
Acacia aneuro, Acacia victoriae Family: Fabaceae (legume family).