Australian native food is growing in popularity, but to many Australians it’s still a mystery. Accepted local fare such as kangaroo, saltbush and pippies are just a small fraction of thousands of potential ingredients in our own backyard. Some of these foods have flavours we’re not used to – at times bitter, astringent and powerful – so this series will demystify them, one ingredient at a time.
Ice Plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum)
When it comes to sustainability and food, eating local is the most sensible solution. But local produce doesn't just mean lettuce from your own garden or the farmers market.
“We need to be eating native ingredients grown natural in the Australian climate so there is no need to use more resources – water, energy etc. – to get them growing,” says Daniel Motlop, former AFL player and co-owner of Adelaide's native food specialty shop Something Wild.
“A good example is in the middle of summer when the lettuce crops are getting pumped full of water to stop them wilting. The native crops are taking in the sun and getting bigger naturally, without irrigation.”
Something Wild harvests most of its native greens near Wellington in South Australia's Coorong. The food is sourced by Indigenous pickers only. “It’s important to buy ingredients like this from an ethical source,” says Motlop. “People should not just go randomly foraging if they don’t know what these things are. It’s dangerous and disrespectful. Our pickers know what they are looking for and there are some varieties that can’t be eaten. We’re also helping to create Indigenous jobs.”
Ice plant is just one of the many greens harvested from the region. Its common name comes from the very obvious icicle-looking drops that cover the succulent. It is crisp like celery or bok choy, slightly sweet and super salty to taste.
“Quite a few chefs and restaurants are using the ice plant. Orana in Adelaide and The Crown in Melbourne to name a [couple],” says Motlop. “They like it because it has a great salty crispness and a uniqueness which plates up beautifully.”
At home, Motlop recommends we try it in a variety of ways: in stir-fries and salads, battered like tempura, with seafood dishes (quickly blanched), or stuffed inside a whole fish. It’s particularly suited to Asian-style dishes, he says. His top tip? Store it in a paper bag in the fridge. “It’s a moist plant and can go soggy if not stored properly.”
Ice plant can be purchased in-store or online from Something Wild.
Rebecca Sullivan owns native food product label Warndu.