Wattleseed is a pungent culinary spice, produced from the seed of certain varieties of Australian acacia, or wattle.
The wattle is an important and symbolic tree in Australia and a frond of its highly scented yellow flowers is the national floral emblem. The name comes from early European settlers using various acacia species in the construction of huts and houses. Wattle, meaning to thatch.
The Australian aborigines would often eat cooked green wattleseed as a form of leguminous sustenance, but these days wattleseed is almost always found roasted and ground.
The acacia tree most often used for the production of wattleseed is the Mulga (Acacia aneura), which grows fairly extensively in the Australian outback. The Mulga is quite a large tree, growing to a height of 7 metres (23 feet).
Harvesting wattleseed is very labour intensive, as the entire process must be done by hand. Once gathered, the seedpods are steamed open to reveal the small peas or seeds. These are then roasted and the now ashen seed coat must be removed. The seed is ground in the final production step.
Roasted and ground wattleseed looks like nothing more than instant coffee granules and the comparison is not just cosmetic. When cooked, wattleseed has an unmistakable coffee aroma and flavour, which lends itself to all manner of sweet dishes, such as ice creams, cakes and custard.
Wattleseed has been neglected as a spice in Australia, mainly due to negative connotations from the Bush Tucker or indigenous food craze that swept Australia's restaurants during the 1990's. Abominations such as wattleccino; yes, you better believe it, a wattle flavoured cappuccino were certain to affect this lovely spice's reputation. It is a shame really, as wattleseed has a sublime taste, the coffee element, expanded with its own unique flavour.
If you manage to find some wattleseed for sale, one of the simplest methods of dealing with it is to infuse the ground seeds in a sweet liquid. Try adding the seeds to the simmering milk for an ice cream or custard, just in the same manner as you would use a vanilla bean. Just remember to strain well through a fine sieve as the seed can leave an unpleasant granular texture to the finished dish.