Last year when I went to the seaside on vacation, I picked a fruit from an ice plant, took a bite, and promptly spit it out. It was disgusting. Slimy, salty, sweet, mushy, seedy. Uch.
I didn't understand how people ate such things- they were quite revolting, and as I said above, I'm not easily turned off by foods, no matter how strange.
But eat them they do.
Ice plants, carpobrotus edulis, it turns out, are a native of South Africa, but they're cultivated in gardens around the world, from where they've spread as an invasive species, covering large areas. (My next door neighbors have ice plants growing in their garden.)The plants are made of lots of light or dark green finger like fleshy leaves on a greenish or reddish mat of stems, leaves that have 3 distinct sides and moist insides like aloe or other succulents. They have either yellow, white, or magenta, or purple flowers that remind me a bit of sea anemones. South Africans call the fruit of this plant sour figs, sea figs, or hottentot figs, and commonly use them in jams.
Recently, when I went back to the coast, I again saw ice plants, and as I was on a quest to see what I could forage on vacation, I decided to give hottentot figs another chance, so that maybe this time I could finally see the appeal that these strange little fruit had for South Africans. Fortunately, I got it right, and now know how to make these fruit actually taste edible.
Here's a mat of ice plants growing.
Here's one ice plant flower in the sea of ice plant leaves.
When the flowers mature, the petals fall off while the ovaries of the plant swell up, leaving the ice plant with a bunch of greenish purplish orange fruit that kind of look like ping pong balls with horns.
Here's a closeup of the fruit of the ice plant. This is what you want to pick if you want to eat your sea fig/sour fig/hottentot fig.
Now here's the important part, the part I only learned now.
Do not take a bite of the fruit as is, unless you want to be grossed out as I was the first time I tried them.
The outside of the fruit is an icky, slimy, salty layer. Inside it is a little fruit that is seedy and sweet.
To eat it, first peel off the outside, as I show step by step in the pic below, and then eat the inside.
As far as I know, there are no poisonous look a likes.
I wasn't able to find nutritional information for the plant.
Medicinal benefits of ice plants:
The leaf juice is antiseptic, and is gargled to treat throat and mouth infections. It is taken orally for dysentery, digestive troubles, tuberculosis and as a diuretic. It is applied externally to treat eczema, wounds and burns. It is said to be effective against toothache, earache and oral and vaginal thrush. Mothers used to wipe the baby's mouth after lactation, with a cloth soaked with the juice of the sour fig.
I haven't tried cooking with these, but after I finally figured out the trick in how to eat them, I was just eating one after the other after the other, all I could get my hands on. They taste good. They're still slimy, but at least once you peel them they're not sweet, salty, and slimy!
Have you ever seen ice plants growing? Ever seen the fruit? Ever eaten the fruit? Did you know the fruit was edible?
Have there been any foods that the first few times you ate them, you thought they were so gross, only to find out afterward that you were eating them incorrectly, and that's why they tasted so bad? What food was it?
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