Fans of Chef Jamie Oliver will be familiar with Salsola soda, also known as agretti. The rest of us are asking “what is agretti?” and “what are agretti uses?” The following article contains Salsola soda information and how to grow agretti in your garden.
What is Agretti?
Popular in Italy and hot in high-end Italian restaurants in the United States, agretti is an herb plant that is 18 inches (46 cm.) wide by 25 inches tall (63.5 cm.). This annual has long, chive-like foliage and when mature, in about 50 days or so, looks like a large chive plant.
Salsola Soda Information
The flavor of agretti has been described variously as a bit bitter, almost sour, to a more pleasant description of a plant with a pleasant crunch, hint of bitterness, and the tang of salt. Also known as roscano, friar’s beard, saltwort, barill, or Russian thistlewort, it grows naturally throughout the Mediterranean. This succulent is closely related to samphire, or sea fennel.
The name ‘Salsola’ means salt, and rather apropo, as agretti has been used to desalinate soil. This succulent was once reduced to soda ash (hence its name), an integral ingredient in famous Venetian glassmaking until a synthetic process replaced its use in the 19th century.
Today, agretti’s uses are strictly culinary. It can be eaten fresh, but more commonly it is sautéed with garlic and olive oil and served as a side dish. When agretti is young and tender it can be used in salads, but another more common use is lightly steamed and dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, and fresh cracked black pepper. It is also popular for use as a serving bed, classically with fish.
Agretti may also replace its cousin Okahijiki (Salsola komarovi) in sushi where its tartness, brininess, and texture balance the delicate fish flavor. Agretti is a good source of vitamin A, iron, and calcium.
How to Grow Agretti Plants
Agretti has become all the rage in part due to celebrity chefs, but also because it is hard to come by. Anything rare is often sought after. Why is it so difficult to come by? Well, if you were thinking of growing Salsola soda a year or so ago and you began searching for seeds, you may have found them difficult to procure. Any purveyor that stocked the seed couldn’t meet the demand for them. Also, floods in central Italy that year reduced the stocks of seed.
Another reason that agretti seed is hard to come by is that it has a very short viability period, only about three months. It is notoriously hard to germinate as well; the germination rate is around 30%.
That said, if you can obtain seeds and procure them, plant them immediately in the spring when soil temperatures are around 65 degrees F. (18 C.). Sow the seeds and cover them with about ½ inch (1 cm.) of soil.
Seeds should be spaced 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm.) apart. Thin the plants to 8 to 12 inches (20-31 cm.) apart in a row. Seeds should germinate sometime within seven to ten days.
You can start harvesting the plant when it is around 7 inches (18 cm.) tall. Harvest by cutting the tops or sections of the plant and it will then regrow, much the same as chive plants.