Wattleseed - a new flavour from an old food
Spicemaster notes for Wattleseed
Test Wattleseed which has been prepared as you would a cup of coffee but bring it to a boil. Strain and add milk or make a concentrate and pour the extract into some cream. Leave for an hour and then taste looking for:
Well roasted, high quality Wattleseed will have a coffee, chocolate and hazelnut characteristics
Chocolate short palate with coffee notes less the bitterness and a nutty finish similar to hazelnuts (filberts)
Colour and Appearance
Wattleseed grounds: dark brown, free-flowing coffee-like roasted grounds
Wattleseed extract: a dark brown, concentrated, water based liquid
Wattleseed paste: smooth, rich, dark brown paste, no preservatives, no additives, no salt or sugars added
Wattleseed grounds: use for its rich roasted, toasty flavours in pancake batter, desserts (mousse, creme brulee, anglaise) and baked products eg muffins, breads, shortbread
Wattleseed extract: use by simple addition to sweet or savoury sauces, dairy desserts and as a coffee substitute
Wattleseed paste: this makes using Wattleseed really easy. It’s pre-treated for maximum flavour strength, ideal for all of the above uses and more.
Boil Wattleseed grounds in water to soften them and extract the flavour, then add liquid and some of the grounds as appropriate. For the extract, take care when adding to cream to avoid curdling the proteins i.e. add extract while stirring or folding in.
Manufacturers, ask us about our Wattleseed blend which is Wattleseed extended with roasted grains as a cost-effective product with all the flavour advantages of pure Wattleseed but at a reduced price. It is particularly suited to breads and other baked products.
Storage – Wattleseed grounds: store dry – Wattleseed extract: store chilled, although generally shipped at ambient temperature and stable at ambient until opened – Wattleseed paste: store chilled
grounds: 100g and 200g jars, 1kg zip lock bag and 20kg bag in box
extract: 200ml bottles, 1kg jerry cans and 20kg buckets
Wattleseed – a new grain from the New World
Botanists can’t quite agree but there appears to be around a 1000 species of Acacia which are colloquially called wattles by Australians. Another 700 species, mostly quite distinct from the Australian ones, are also found in Africa.
Wattleseeds from around 120 species of Acacia have been used as foods by Australian Aborigines for at least 6,000 years. This matches the first cultivation of wheat on the fertile deltas at the mouths of the Nile in Egypt; the Euphrates in Mesopotamia (now Iraq); and the Indus in India. However, while the move to cultivation began a trend of reliance on an ever-decreasing number of food species, Australian Aborigines maintained a completely different relationship with the Land. They saw themselves as part of the ecosystem and did not attempt to conquer it. They were managers and care-takers of their country and they saw no reason to change the nature of their foods.
As part of their charge of keeping the country healthy, they used a huge array of different foods to meet their nutritional needs and for numerous Aboriginal clans, wattle seeds were just a part of this food resource.
Traditionally, Australian Aboriginal women generally harvested the fully ripe, dry seeds from the wattle, collecting them as we still do today – by beating the pod-laden trees with sticks to dislodge the seeds. Some species were eaten at the green pod stage but dried seeds were by far more common.
Rather than the wattle seeds falling on cleared earth, modern harvesters spread shadecloth or tarpaulins under the trees and scoop up the pods and seeds (and the inevitable sticks, beetles and leaves) and stockpile it all for collection and cleaning. Various and ingenious mechanical harvesters have been used with varying degrees of success, from tractor power take-off driven vacuums to backpack units. Some even clean the seeds up in the field. This reduces the vast volumes of pods transported back to camp as a 1 cubic metre wool bale full of pod can hold as little as from 10 to 15 kg of seeds once cleaned (about a bucket full).
Back in ancient times, the seeds were collected in coolamons or bark dishes and hot live coals were added to heat parch the seeds. This makes them easier to mill to a flour otherwise the seeds tend to squash as though you were trying to mill fresh garden peas. Once adequately toasted and dried, the coals were removed and the coolamons used to yandy and bump the seeds clean from any debris. We use modern equivalents like huge fans and vibrating table sieves to clean the seeds and then roast them in modified coffee roasters. Anyway, the Aboriginal processed seeds were milled to a coarse meal which was then baked into seed cakes.
An accidental discovery
Let me tell you about the modern use of wattle seed and how it came about: I was preparing the seeds from 4 or 5 wattle species that I had had sent in from Central Australian Aboriginal communities with whom I was working on the nutritional analysis program at the University of Sydney. The Aboriginal women had sent in raw seeds and while these were useful to analyse, we also needed the seeds as prepared ready to eat.
And so it was that I found myself roasting the seeds in a saucepan on my kitchen stove. I heated the seeds while tossing them around a little like the early stages of making popcorn.
And then the phone rang.
I put the saucepan to the side of the hotplate and went to answer the phone, thinking that we are very well trained to answer its urgent demanding ring. Anyway, after I returned to the seeds, I found that they had continued to roast on in the pan and now looked very heavily roasted indeed. After an expletive or two, I thought that I had better see if these ‘over-cooked’ seeds would grind more easily than the raw seeds (remember, which tend to squash more than grind to a meal). I transferred the roasted seeds to an electric coffee bean grinder and gave them a spin before taking off the top to look at how they’d ground up.
Well! The aroma!
Up came this incredible, coffee, chocolate, hazelnut, toasty, roasted flavour which was just superb. I knew instantly, that I’d discovered something really special and noted that September day of 1984 as auspicious. I ground the seeds up more and then tried the dark brown, coffee-like grounds in my stove-top cappuccino machine. As the rich extract poured through, I tried it black and then with milk, which I much preferred and with a topping of frothed milk, the world’s first Wattleccino™ was born. It was delicious with the milk (or cream) bringing out a sweetness in the product I now call Wattleseed. It even worked with a small amount of coffee added and this is still recommended for coffee addicts wanting to reduce their caffeine intake. We now manufacture Wattleseed extract using state of the art, counter-current extraction technology and it has been proven as a fantastic flavour for cream, ice cream, nut butters, sauces and in beverages.
And so we have the tiny, black wattle seeds from Acacias growing in the the arid Central Australian deserts now harvested for their bounty of what is essentially, a coffee substitute. Picking wattle seeds in the desert in 40 to 50°C (100 to 110°F) may not be as romantic a notion as hand-picked coffee berries from rainforests of New Guinea, South America or Ethiopia but extremes cannot fail to impress.
A hint when using the grounds is to begin to extract the flavour and soften the grounds in water by boiling the small quantity you need for a particular recipe. Like the roasted and ground Wattleseed, Wattleseed extract, which is a water-based concentrated ‘espresso’, can be used in a multitude of ways. The extract is just the water-based, ready-made flavour with the grounds removed. The extract also has an emulsifying action and is an effective stabiliser for whipped cream, nut butters and some oil and water mixtures (sauces, particularly emulsion sauces, dressings etc).
Add Wattleseed to whipped cream, icecream, pancake, bread or muffin mixes, pasta, chocolate and chocolate fillings, biscuits and beverages (my Wattleccino™ is simple to make with wattleseed extract – just add hot water and frothed milk). Also use as a flavouring for beer, cream or red wine sauces, in marinades and dessert sauces. Approximate usage rate is from 2-3%, depending on the flavour of other ingredients and whether the Wattleseed is enhancing or competing with these other tastes.
Wattleseed as medicine and nutrition
My work at the University of Sydney’s Human Nutrition Unit in the 1980s (doesn’t that make me feel old with more than 25 years under the belt) analyzing wild Australian foods for their nutritional profiles showed that wattle seeds have a high protein content, variable but polyunsaturated fat content and carbohydrates of such complexity that they can be considered slow release. Foods utilizing wattle seeds typically exhibit a lowered glycaemic response. This means that the edible species of wattle seeds are generally highly nutritive and recommended as part of a mixed diet, particularly for those maintaining a low carbohydrate or low GI focus.
The fats in wattle seeds are typically 5 to 10% of the raw seed weight but there is an interesting point to note here. Many Acacia seeds have an appendage known as an aril which is a structure which holds the seed in the pod. The arils can vary in colour from a light tan to bright yellow, orange or deep red. No studies have been conducted on the pigments which are probably carotenoid compounds which are related to and often precursors of vitamin A. What we do know is that the arils are very high in polyunsaturated oils and many taste absolutely delicious. In fact, some species were used by Aborigines to flavour their drinking water: The whole seeds, with arils attached, were immersed in water and worked through the fingers to almost homogenise the fats into the water. It certainly flavoured the water and I can best describe the taste as close to the toasty notes of just baked bread but with a range of interesting aromatic flavours, again, depending upon the species.
I have tried around 14 different wattle seed cakes and all had a pleasant taste which varied depending on the species of Wattle (Acacia) used. Some were very oily, fragrant flavours ending up tasting almost like a spiced, gluten-free bread while others were more like a plain damper or unleavened bread made from barley more than wheat flour. Others came closer to buckwheat, quinoa and other grain breads. But whatever the flavour, there is little doubt that before too long, I really hope that Wattleseed will soon become common ingredients on menus and in bakeries around the world and then creep into the commodity market just like soy, corn, rice and wheat.
You can purchase Wattleseed in all its forms from our online store so get some grounds or extract, then come back to search this site for Wattleseed recipes.