Wattle Seed: A Reminder of Native Knowledge

When in a foreign land most people become acutely aware that one is in someone else's territory. There is an innate form of respect held for that fact alone. Like as a kid at your friend's house for a sleepover; it's fun and you play and it's more enjoyable in a way because it's slightly foreign, but you tread carefully because parents are there and you respect that you are in someone else's home. But, like crashing the sleepover, gorging on the table of snacks that Mrs Jones has laid out so nicely and barging in on the pillow fight, all without being necessarily invited, as one generation supersedes the next, this element of respect for entering other lands is slowly slipping away. There is an increasing sense that inhabiting other lands and claiming is a right not a privilege. Perhaps it was always there, it's just been compounded by the increased number of people meshed across the globe.

It is easier now to travel and experience different cultures than any time in history. A significant part of what makes exploring foreign countries so enjoyable is the unfamiliar. Experiences only read about or filtered by screened devices. An increasing number of travel companies are offering bespoke travel experiences as consumers look for ever-increasing unique interaction at the heart of traditional culture. People now want to delve deeper into natural customs and learn of the practices of native communities.  This is a fabulous thing. Alas though, we are so distracted in our hunt for the experience we seem to have missed the part of the equation where we factor in the source. The native people that so graciously offer sacred knowledge passed down through generations, or custodial practices precious to their beliefs and customs. There are groups that operate sustainably, such as Alternative Peru, but in many cases this knowledge seems to be a free-for-all. It appears the issue isn't so much the misguided intentions of those inadvertently profiting from this know-how, it's the lack of a universal model to avert such forms of plagiarism. Demand for communities to share their cultural wisdom is a good thing, as long as it also benefits those doing the sharing. A case in point is this blog itself; I want to share and celebrate traditional cultures but find a way to also give back. Without celebrating tradition and understanding there is no fuel to give back to these communities in the first place. It's often not purposeful contempt, it's that we just don't know how to give back, or it's just not as accessible as it could be.

What's after millenials? Neo millenials? Meagan Johnson tells us they are 'Linksters'. Where's the catchy term for 70s-80s children? 60s? 50s? Not required, we were simply cool. So these 'linksters' and all that will come 'A.D.' to their generation. Heaven forbid, with their umbilical cord attachment to screens of all varieties and all other offspring of celluloid (gosh I sound old). The incessant need to happy-snap yourself all over the world in increasingly unique and intrusive circumstances. It seems the voyeuristic nature of techo devices has, to an extent, dictated the direction of our evolving view of the world. It is difficult to envision how future generations won't innately feel entitled to pillage all lands of resources, experiences (tourist-based or organic), local's trust and native information, primarily based on a sense of entitlement, and often in exchange for tuppence. 

Admittedly a tangential point, but one worth making nonetheless; all too often I feel conflicted by this myself in one way or another, such as when taking photos overseas. Like many, on holidays I love to take photos. While still quite young on my first trip I happy-snapped away and thought "why are they holding out their hands for money, it's my choice to take photos and I shouldn't have to pay anyone for the privilege". I've never profited off any images I've taken in other countries but years and additional trips later I have woken to my previous naivety. When I receive any kind of return on an image taken, in currency, likes, verbal accolades, mum complimenting you in that slightly left-of-field way that only mum's can, then I feel guilt that I didn't pay it forward when I took the image. Herein lies the conundrum. At the time one never knows which images will pay off. Does one bleed the piggy bank dry tossing coins for each of the 8418 images one takes on a holiday? On overseas trips since, I have ensured whenever there is a person in primary focus in 3rd world countries, I offer some cash, whether return is looking likely or not. Likewise if you learn a skill or a custom and then go back to your home country and launch a business based on that native intelligence, where's the just returns for the source of that knowledge?

So, back to what was intentionally the soul of this article but perhaps a conjoined limb of the point just made; in a single statement: 'Native knowledge is sacred', and till now in many ways we seem to have missed this respect train. Yes we pay for our travels or at times what we learn through a screen from others. When one pays one expects a service or product, but this, like everything, (as we are beginning to realise), needs to be sustainable. We cannot just milk it dry and expect no ramifications. 

In a Word, Heritage

I forever feel blessed for the fact that I am tied intricately to not one, but two lines of heritage. My family lineage is German and by birthright I am bestowed the treasures of Australian culture. Many people today share a similar privilege of a tie to more than one country. Devastatingly, individuals are not solely guilty for taking native cultures for granted. I'm disgusted to say the Australian government throughout history in all it's segregated glory has been one of the most atrocious for failure to acknowledge and nurture the native history that is our Aboriginal culture. The richness that native Aboriginals have and could have (beyond expectation) provided, if given the chance and handed some rights to preservation and respect. One would say it's never too late, and it's not, but we have had our sliding doors moment and now we have a myriad of maligned cultural distortions, resentment, alcoholism, abuse, and a culture run of it's native rails.  

The sacred wisdom of our Aboriginal ancestry leaves us a very privileged nation, likewise for every other region across the globe and their own unique traditional ancestry. We still lack the legislation required to ensure those who are the source of traditional practices are offered just rewards for the market value this knowledge provides. The aim should be finding the balance between harnessing the benefits of folklore, cultural expression and traditional knowledge, yet protecting and preserving the wisdom and the livelihoods of those who are the source. We should be embracing the social and cultural value in a sustainable fashion rather than exploiting source communities and allowing piracy of this wisdom. Some international regulations are in place that cover benefit-sharing, but more needs to be established as exploitation is still rife. In the case of businesses profiting from such awareness fair compensation or equitable and agreed inclusion in the supply chain with protection of traditional customs is not yet standard practice. Lord knows we have enough certification bodies today, and so I'm conflicted in suggesting this but perhaps a model similar to Fair Trade trading partnerships may be adopted with producer organisations and labelling initiatives in place? 

Making a Difference

The Electronic Journal of Law (Murdoch University) covers this controversial topic in detail categorising that cultural property can be "all kinds of literary and artistic works such as music, dance, song, ceremonies, symbols and designs, narratives and poetry; all kinds of scientific, agricultural, technical and ecological knowledge, including cultigens, medicines and the rational use of flora and fauna; human remains; immoveable cultural property such as sacred sites, sites of historical significance, and burials; and documentation of indigenous peoples' heritage on film, photographs, videotape, or audio tape". Within some communities custodial rights may govern the passing on of traditional practices and patrimony, thereby preserving it and minimising the risk for breach outside of community agreements.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and some other organisations have made headway in compiling digital libraries of traditional knowledge. Providing a co-beneficial regulatory framework that protects the cultural and social expressions and lore of native people, which is key to preventing economic exploitation and preserving cultural heritage. However, some countries have opted to adopt a sui generis regulatory framework to specifically protect traditional medicines and prevent third parties from gaining any type of exploitative economic advantage. IP Australia have established The Dream Shield program that offers support and advice to indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islander people on how to protect their native philosophies from capitalisation. Not-for-pofit organisations such as FairWild are focused on fair and sustainable practices for both people and plants. They provide a framework for resource management throughout the supply chain to ensure ecological, social and economical sustainability and protection of customary rights and natural resources. Australian Native Food and Botanicals (ANFAB) is a not-for-profit organisation that works as an intermediate between traditional owners of botanical expertise, government bodies and regulatory authorities. They not only promote the applications and benefits of traditional botanicals but work to maintain the rights and privileges of native communities and their associated knowledge. 

Celebrating the Wattle Seed

Historically, wattle seeds have been used for centuries and form an integral part of the indigenous Australian aboriginal diet. Research by Vic Cherikoff reveals the complex makeup of the wattle seed; the seeds contain selenium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc, phosphorus and iron, as well as Vitamin E and a complex range of fatty acids and amino acids. Extensive in vitro research conducted by Kah Yaw Ee has shown that roasting wattle seeds leads to an increase in the level of phenolic compounds and a corresponding increase in antioxidant properties and nutritional value. Rinaudo, Patel and Thomson cover the topic of combating hunger in Potential of Australian Acacias; in semi-arid lands they review the capability of Acacia species to thrive in arid regions and provide a nutritious food source to areas more susceptible to famines. 

In the case of brands offering Australian native foods, sadly we struggled to find suppliers who appeared to support indigenous communities. We did manage to find one with noted support:  Natif* offer a roasted wattle seed grind along with other native Australian herbs, spices and foods. Natif support remote Indigenous communities through channelling funds to the Australian Native Food Farmers and the Australian Native Food Industry.

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The options for using wattle seeds are endless:

  • Add roasted wattle seed to your morning cereal or smoothie bowl
  • They can be milled to make a gluten free flour
  • A wattle seed syrup can be made by boiling down the seeds with a raw sweetener of choice.
  • Dessert ideas are endless: wattle seed meringue, wattle seed chocolate mousse, wattle seed granita, wattle seed cream, wattle seed yoghurt….  
  • Adding some of the seed liquor to nut milks would add a beautiful and nutritious roasted nut flavour
  • Use in a similar fashion to roast chicory root by blending in with your coffee for a nutrient-rich roast, or even use roasted wattle seed as a complete coffee substitute
  • Crushed seeds would be a fabulous addition to dry rubs for meats
  • Heating the seeds in oils would add a pleasant roasted flavour
  • Any cocktail that uses coffee could be substituted with wattle seed as a tasty, nutty and healthy alternative
  • Reputed to have anti-inflammatory, rejuvenating and cleansing properties, the soaked seeds can be used in facial masks and scrubs
  • Wattle seed glycerites (glycerine/water) are high in amino acids and are available for purchase for use in skincare.
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Taste Profile

Mild, nutty, coffee, unique combination of savoury and dark chocolate tones, hint of dry sherry.

Interestingly the taste profile can perceptibly vary between species of Acacia seed. 

Note: The compounds that contribute the taste and colour profile of the roasted seed seep easily into boiling water.  

Wattle Seed Products:

Wattle seed gin by Iron Bark Distillery

Nomad Brewing Co offer a malt beer, Long Trip Saison, that combines coffee, hops, wattleseed and pepper:

Wattle seed extract by Bush Food Shop

Grapeseed oil infused with wattle seed by Native Extracts, rich in fatty acids to hydrate, nourish and preserve the skin.

Wattle Seed Ice Cream

To prepare the seeds:

Grind a nominated amount of seeds down in a mortar and pestle. Roughly is fine, it doesn’t need to be a powder. In a pot add approximately 1/3 seeds to 2/3 water. It can be very rough (we just added twice height of water into the pot). Gently boil the water down to the level of the water is just above the level of the seeds (just covering). The water should be a deep brown colour now and slightly more viscous than water. We tried this method both with grinding the seeds and not grinding the seeds and we found both the decoction and the distribution through the ice-cream is much more desirable when the seeds are ground prior to boiling. Cool the infusion with seeds to room temperature or in a refrigerator.

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We based our recipe on Skye Gyngell's over at Cooked, although we used 4 eggs instead of 6:

450mL double cream

150mL milk

4 free-range egg yolks

120g sweetener of choice (castor sugar, coconut sugar, rapadura sugar, agave syrup....)

1 tbsp soaked wattleseeds and the liquor (or more or less if desired)

Gently heat the cream and milk with the wattleseed concoction stirring until it gradually reaches just below a boil. Take off the heat and allow to cool. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick. Gently stir the warm cream/milk mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Place the entire mixture onto very low heat and continue to stir gently until it reaches a smooth custard consistency (about 6-8 minutes). Make sure you don't scramble the egg mixture. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool. To make the ice cream follow the instructions of your ice-cream churner. Make sure the churner bowl is chilled before you add the custard mixture for churning.


200g sweetened condensed milk

500mL double cream

1 tbsp soaked wattle seeds and the liquor (or more or less if desired)

Whisk all together until thick and well combined. Using a spatula transfer into a container, cover with clingfilm and freeze until solid (a few hours).

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The cheat's method!

Soften your ice-cream slightly and add the decoction plus the seeds. You can opt to strain off the seeds and flavour with the aqueous syrup alone but we found as the flavour is quite mild it is more desirable by adding the grounds seeds as well. You could even blitz it into a paste for more even distribution throughout the ice cream. The boiling process softens the seeds so they are very palatable within the ice-cream. Place into a freezer or blast chiller to set. 

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Please note: Some acacia varieties, such as Acacia georginae and Acacia ligulata, do contain toxins so ensure you are familiar with the species and only purchase from reputable sources. 

Other useful links:

The seeds are not available from all acacia varieties for culinary applications, Outback Spirit lists the edible species of Acacia most commonly used. 

For growing your own, Wild Seed Tasmania offers a great summary of various types of acacia, their profile and how to grow and cultivate them.

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We would love to hear about progress towards protection of traditional knowledge and native botanicals in your country?

We would also love to update this article if there are brands that offer native botanicals through supply chains that support traditional knowledge please let us know!

* This is not a sponsored post, none of the brands mentioned have paid for endorsements.