So named because of its cool frosted look, the ice plant is a unique vegetable that originated in South Africa. Tiny crystalline beads of bladder cells filled with salt water cover its stems and leaves, which not only makes the ice plant a lovely decorative succulent (look how it glistens in the sun!) but renders it a fascinating culinary ingredient.
Crunchy, juicy and with a gentle marine-like salinity, the ice plant is surprisingly versatile as an ingredient. You can eat it raw – the fleshy leaves are great in salads, giving the dish a nice salty crispiness; or steep it in boiling water to make tea. The hardy vegetable retains its crunch even with heat, so feel free to use it in your stir-fries.
As it is mainly made of water, the ice plant is low in calories. What it is high in, though are vitamins A, B and C, mineral salts, and isoflavones – a class of phytochemicals that help protect the body against breast cancer, menopausal symptoms, heart disease and osteoporosis. In short, the ice plant makes a great addition to any diet, whether you are health conscious or not.
5 ways to use ice plants
1. Steeped as tea
The easiest way of consuming ice plant is to steep it as a tea. Hot water breaks down the succulent, making it easy to absorb its vitamins and minerals through the tea.
2. Raw in salads
Ice plant can easily substitute crunchy leafy vegetables in your salads. It is light, filled with water and only slightly salty so it won’t overpower any other flavours you’d want to dress the salad with.
Thanks to the unique texture of the ice plant leaves, it can be used as an innovative garnish to add a textural element to any dish.
The Japanese are known to make tempura out of ice plant leaves. Just a thin coating of tempura flour and a quick deep-fry gives the leaves an extra crispiness.
This hardy vegetable makes for a good stir-fry ingredient as it is able to retain its crunchiness after frying. Because of its slight salinity, ice plant makes a great complement to seafood. Here’s a simple recipe from chef Benson Tong of Mahota Commune:
Recipe: Stir-fried ice plant with konjac in organic black bean sauce
- Prep time 5 mins
- Cook time 3 mins
- Serves 2
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 100g red bell pepper, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp organic black bean sauce
- 150g konjac (or squid), sliced
- 1 tbsp organic konbu soya sauce (or soya sauce)
- 200g ice plant, roughly chopped
- pinch of organic raw sugar
- 50ml water
- In a pan over medium high heat, add oil.
- Sweat onion, pepper and garlic until fragrant.
- Add in bean sauce and fry until well incorporated.
- Add konjac and soya sauce and fry for 20 seconds.
- Add ice plant, sugar, and water. Fry for 30 seconds.
- Dish and serve with steamed white rice.