• Wattleseed damper is an easy way to put the nutty flavours into your baking. (Outback Gourmet)Source: Outback Gourmet
Wattleseed is a low-GI, high-protein bush food star that adds flavour to everything from a 'wattlecino' to damper.
By
Kylie Walker

27 Mar 2019 - 10:51 AM  UPDATED 9 Nov 2020 - 12:27 PM

Think of wattleseed as an easy – and delicious and nutritious – first step: if you’ve not cooked much with bush food flavours but you’re intrigued by the huge range of Indigenous herbs and spices, wattleseed is a great place to start. (And if you have, we've got more some ideas for you for using it.)

Indigenous Australians have been using the seeds, gums, barks and roots of wattle trees for thousands of years as food and medicine, from treating headaches and colds to soothing itchy skin. Today, wattleseed – usually ground and roasted – is increasingly available, and its nutty flavour and healthy properties make it an excellent addition to sweet and savoury dishes, and even for making a 'wattlecino'. It’s high-protein, low GI and a good source of several minerals, including magnesium and zinc (read on for more on why it’s not just a great taste).

Use it as a spice

"It's got a nice nutty flavour to it, a coffee-nutty flavour," says chef and tour guide Bob (Penunka) Taylor, who shares food, country and culture through his RT Tours business. Taylor, whose heritages include the Arrernte people of central Australia, cooks campfire lunches and dinners as part of his tours to locations such as Mbantua (Alice Springs) and the East and West MacDonnell Ranges.

Think of wattleseed as a flavouring, not a flour, he says. "I use it to add flavour. I use all my bush foods as a flavouring." It's more sustainable, he says, and more realistic given how much some bush foods cost. "It [wattleseed] is not as refined -  you know, white flour is totally refined, it's ground and ground. That's a grain and we're using a seed, and the seed is kind of hard. So even in the old days, it would never have been used for a cake, it would have always been a biscuit.

"If you got a whole heap of seeds, then you'd be getting as much as you could and then kind of baking it down, so it would last longer."

Taylor says his cooking is a fusion - a mixture of modern and bush food, and a way to give people a taste of traditional culture. "I love my Aboriginal culture. I'm proud of it [and want] to share it with other people." 

You can get a taste of Bob's campfire cooking in SBS Food show Outback Gourmet, where he cooks up these wattleseed and quandong puddings.  

Bump up your baking

If you’ve never used wattleseed, a damper is an excellent way to try it.

“I love wattleseed because it has a subtle hazelnut or soft coffee flavour,” says Northern Territory cook Geoff “Marksie” Mark, who bakes a brace of dampers every time he hosts one of his popular camp oven dinners. “I also use it in my stews and on fruit salads, and pancakes, and I also put a teaspoon of roast wattleseed in my coffee.”

“My grandfather was a professional rabbit trapper from Rainbow in Victoria, so from an early age, I was introduced to a lot of different bush foods and initially was using saltbush, blue bush and such in many bush recipes. It wasn’t until I met some Aboriginal ladies in the ‘70s that I started using up to 20 different types of native herbs, spices, fruits and foods. My friendship with Katie Young 20 years ago saw my introduction to wattleseed, the seed from a black acacia tree, that I now use many different ways, but the most popular is in our bush dampers.

“I owe my livelihood to the local Aboriginal women who took me under their wing,” says Mark, who operates Marksie's Stockman Camp Tucker, which offers camp oven dinners under the stars (the 2019 dinner season starts in April).  

“I source a lot of my wattleseed locally and also use commercially pre-prepared supplies from The Wild Hibiscus Flower Company in NSW and Outback Pride in South Aust…. I still source a lot of local things myself as I only work seven months due to seasonal conditions but then travel for five months collecting things as we go.”

While he also makes dampers flavoured with lemon myrtle, pepperberry or bush tomato, he says the cheese-topped wattleseed version is the most popular. “Served with real butter and golden syrup  - cocky’s joy -  it is to die for!” (While Mark cooks his dampers in coals, he’s shared a version for oven baking at home, too – get his recipe here).

Do it in dukkah

Cook and cookbook author Justine Schofield, who met Marks and Taylor during the filming of her show Outback Gourmet, suggests another easy way to use it: in a bush food version of dukkah, the Egyptian spice and nut blend often served with bread and oil.

“Wattleseed, the ground seeds, have a really nice, mildly nutty flavour. A lot of people refer to it [as like coffee], and it almost does have a coffee flavour. It gives a beautiful aromatic flavour that can be used in sweet and savoury things.

“I'm cooking scones right now,” she says when we catch up with her for a phone chat ahead of the start of the new show on SBS Food. “A little bit of wattleseed through those would be fantastic. If you're going to make a stew, you could add that to that, or use it in a dukkah mixture - use some macadamia nuts toasted with wattleseeds and use it as a dip for bread, like an Australian-style dukkah.” She also suggests toasting the seeds in a pan, cooling and grinding them, and then folding into whipped cream to serve with desserts.

Change up your coffee

You can add wattleseed to your coffee to change up the flavour – that’s how Geoff Mark does it - or make a caffeine-free ‘wattlecino’ or plunger version using ground and roasted wattleseed.  

Love hot chocolate? Give this hot wattleseed chocolate recipe (which doubles up the bushfood buzz by suggesting you top it with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon myrtle) a try.

But don’t use any old acacia …

Wattles are botanically known as acacias, and there are about a thousand different acacia species growing across Australia; about a tenth of those have been historically used for food and medicine. Today, the wattleseed we can buy comes mainly from a half-dozen species, including the charmingly named ‘elegant wattle’ (Acacia victoriae), plus the mulga wattle (Acacia aneura), silver wattle (Acacia retinodes), golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) and coastal wattle (Acacia longifolia), which all have different traditional names in local areas. And according to the bush food industry peak body Australian Native Food & Botanicals, different species give slightly different flavours (the coastal, for example, is “rich and nutty” and the elegant is darker, with a deeper nut flavour). The roasting time and the fineness of the grind will also affect flavour and how the wattleseed works in recipes.

 

Acacias flower from August to December, with the harvest, usually occurring around January-February.

Nutritional analysis has shown that wattleseeds are high in protein (about a third) and carbohydrates (also roughly a third), and although they do have a high level of trypsin inhibitor, this study found that overnight soaking and boiling, or roasting, not only reduces inhibitors to negligible levels, but also enhances the nutritional value of the seeds. The RIRDC (Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation) also reports they are low GI and a good source of magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron and selenium.

But if you have a wattle tree growing in your back yard, it’s probably safest not to be tempted to cook with the seeds. As this article on the Wattle Day Association website (yes! Wattle has its own national day  - 1 September every year) points out, some acacias contain toxins.

Soak for success

Wattleseed doesn’t dissolve, like, say, instant coffee, but soaking does soften the seeds, so you’ll see that in some recipes where whole seeds are used – like this delicious chocolate and wattleseed self-saucing pudding, by chef Mark Olive.

And if you add wattleseed to your coffee, don’t throw out the syrupy mix left at the bottom of your cup. “I make coffee with good-quality instant granules, and add a teaspoon of roast wattleseed – it gives it a great hazelnut flavour,” says Geoff Mark. “Keep that last half-inch, which will be mostly wattleseed, and use it as a syrup. It’s great to pour over some fresh fruit, pavlova, etcetera. Delicious!”

Ground wattleseed image via the CSIRO

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