Outback grass found to have 'salt and vinegar' flavour

Spinifex tastes like salt and vinegar chips. Source: Supplied
Spinifex tastes like salt and vinegar chips. Source: Supplied

WHILE cataloguing a bunch of native grass species, researchers in Australia made an unusual discovery.

After handling specimens of native grass species in the lab, University of WA research scientist Matthew Barrett and PhD student Ben Andersonit noticed it tasted exactly like the flavouring found on salt and vinegar chips.

"We were doing late night experiments … handling specimens of that species," Dr Barrett told the ABC.

"Someone licked their hand at some point and tasted that flavour."

The flavoursome grass was spinifex (Triodia species), a tough, spiky tussock grass that dominates much of the red sand desert and rocky ranges of Central Australia that is known for its ability to resist even the worst droughts.

Dr Barrett said the salt and vinegar taste comes from tiny droplets of liquid found on younger grass stems.

"It looks pretty inconspicuous when you first get to it, but if you look at it very closely it has very, very minute sparkling droplets on the stems," he said.

"When you lick them, they taste like salt and vinegar chips."

Spinifex covers nearly 30 per cent of Australia's outback, with at least 64 different Triodia species are found across Australia.

"In the Pilbara alone there are about 30 different species that we now recognise, so there's a lot more out there than you think," Dr Barrett said.

"But there's still at least another 30-odd species that have to be described and they are just the ones that we know about."

Other than having a distinctive tang, Queensland commercially farms the native grass to manufacture the world's strongest and thinnest condoms.

It is also used to rehabilitate mine sites and has resin used as an ancient version of superglue.

The study was published in Australian Systematic Botany.

Topics:  chips outback plants scientists

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