No one would say that plants that grow wild on the grounds of the science park of the University of Alicante, and in the salt flats and rocks, the most exquisite palates raffle them.
It’s about the halofilas, which present physiological adaptations to saline environments and with whose domestication, which is nothing more than their controlled cultivation in the greenhouse, botanical researchers from the UA and the UMH have discovered that they become more fleshy and succulent.
“We are growing these wild plants because, without so much stress, they develop much more and are more palatable” or tasty, which it revalues them in a singular way for their production for haute cuisine, as the principal investigator and project manager explains, Second Rivers.
This succulence, which makes them thicker and with fleshy leaves, derives from the fact that they store water in the tissues to survive, since the salt breaks their chain of mineral nutrients.
Actually have been consumed since ancient times as food or as a condiment, especially in famine episodes, but nowadays they have become “a package of new resources for modern cuisine,” Ríos points out.
As a main ingredient, to enhance the flavor or to decorate elaborate recipes, gourmet halophytes, such as salicornia, are in fashion.
And to tame them a “Pavilion of culinary herbs”, with the participation of the City Council of Ibi and the support of the Carmencita chair of the UA, -de Estudios del Sabor Gastronómico-, the Association of Women in Gastronomy -whose president is the chef and restaurateur Maria Jose San Roman-, and some companies from Alicante and Murcia. The project is promoted by the Torretes Biological Station-Botanical Garden, within its Botanical Garden, and the space is entirely dedicated to gastronomy.
Up to a hundred plants are being grown for consumption. “They have not all grown yet but we already have more than 50 cultivated and available”, details the project manager. In fact, due to the increase in soil salinity as a result of factors such as the intensification of agriculture and the lack of rainfall, these halophiles are in full force. “They are an opportunity when it comes to finding new edible plants,” emphasizes Ríos.
The UA researcher includes halophiles cultivated in the past, such as chard, which in Muslim times became very popular and lives among the sandy areas and salt marshes of the beach; or the sea fennel that grows close to the sea, on rocks dotted with salt water. “With it a pickle that is highly appreciated in our local tradition is made,” he highlights. It is usually put in brine.
“Many of these ancient plants are being rescued. Gourmets are going to feel very comfortable. We want to offer new possibilities by rescuing them from oblivion or giving them new possibilities ”, the botanical expert ventures.
Also cite the maritime cakile, a small fleshy plant of the cabbage family that also lives on the beach “where we throw towels,” he specifies. And what’s most amazing is that modern cooks are reusing it. Other types of halophiles are popular in distant geographic areas but are new to us, such as the maritime Mertensia oyster plant. “It comes from the Nordic area of Europe and is very popular because it tastes like oysters,” he adds.
Together with Segundo Ríos, the also researcher at Cibio, Instituto de la Biodiversidad de la UA, Vanessa Martínez-Francés; C. Obón, of Applied Biology of the UMH; Alonso Verde, of the Laboratory of Systematics and Ethnobotany of the Institute of Botany of Castilla La Mancha; the Cook David Ariza; and Emilio Laguna, of the Generalitat.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.