Crystalline Iceplant (Ficoïde Glaciale)

Meet one of my favorite greens, the crystalline iceplant, known as Mesembryanthemum cristallinum in Latin and ficoïde glaciale in French.

It’s a succulent, leafy plant that originated in South Africa and belongs to the same family as tetragon, another unusual green I’m very fond of.

The leaves of the iceplant are thick and fleshy, with a frosted look, as if they were covered with tiny dew droplets. Depending on the variety, they may be flat and large, about the size of a hand (as shown above), or smaller and sold attached to the stem. Full-size leaves I will slice into short ribbons; small ones I’ll keep whole, trimming the thicker parts of the stem.

Ficoide Glaciale

In both cases, what you get is a crunchy, juicy, refreshing green with a gently tart, marine flavor.

Because of this ocean-y note, chefs often pair it with seafood — scallops, oysters, and the like — but I like it as a simple salad, dressed with a Japanese-style vinaigrette made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. To this salad one can add a grated carrot, matchstick pieces of cucumber, and perhaps some tiny new potatoes, and serve it with a poached egg on top.

Ficoide Glaciale

I am told the crystalline iceplant does well in drier soil and can be grown as an ornamental plant, but this shouldn’t keep you from eating the leaves as they mature.

Have you ever come across this one? How was it served, or what did you do with it? Any other quirky green you’re on the lookout for, now that spring is upon us?

This post was first published in April 2012 and updated in July 2016.

  • Clotilde, where do you get them? I have never seen them in NYC, Boston, Paris…can you find them in a Chinatown or grow them? :))

    • I find it at the Batignolles organic greenmaket in Paris. And you can buy the seeds online if you have room to grow them!

      • Because of this ocean-y note, chefs often pair it with seafood — scallops, oysters, and the like — but I like it as a simple salad, dressed with a Japanese-style vinaigrette made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. To this salad one can add a grated carrot, matchstick pieces of cucumber, and perhaps some tiny new potatoes, and serve it with a poached egg on top.

    • Have you ever come across this one?

  • fd

    I have had some! It was served with fish. When I ate it I thought it was tetragon which they’d put through some cool icing process or something. I’m so happy to learn it was a whole other plant. Thanks for this post.

  • Sigrid

    Okay, this is definitely too spooky. I just had them yesterday at “Tschebull” in Hamburg, maybe for the first time in my life. (Not too sure.) And right after coming back to Paris today I looked up the French name to put on my shopping list. This happened just a few minutes ago!

    At Tschebull they put it on top of trout-sashimi, together with some cress and a sweet-sourish dressing (mirin et al., perhaps?).

    Where did you find it in Paris?

    • Fun synchronicity! And that dish sounds lovely.

  • Dee

    I never heard of this, but love to try it! I going to have to go around and see if can find here in Cleveland

  • The only place I’ve ever come across this is in a book (Mangez-moi by Agnes Desarthe). I remember not being able to find the word in my otherwise trusty French dictionary and feeling doomed to perpetual ignorance (though I was at least able to guess it was some sort of vegetable). Thanks for solving the mystery!

    • I’d forgotten it was mentioned in that (wonderful) book! I’ll have to look for the reference.

  • Hm, a succulent green plant for eating? I’m very intrigued, but completely puzzled! I have an image in my mind of a chopped salad with little marbles of cactus bulbs :) I’m still lamenting the fact that the only leafy green I can find here with any dependency in the supermarkets in Japan is spinach and cabbage >.< Another thing to try when I return!

  • i used to grow them in upstate new york before moving to arizona. nice website

  • M.

    I’ve never seen this for sale in Austria. If you can read German, however, there is a section in the book Handbuch Bio-Gemüse from the Austrian seed saving organization Arche Noah about growing crystalline iceplant (Eiskraut/Kristallkraut).

    The book recommends the following: mixing iceplant with other leafy greens to make a salad, serving it in a dip with carrots and celery, making an iceplant-only salad with a lemon-olive oil dressing, pairing it with smoked fish filets, and preparing it like spinach served with breadcrumbs and butter.

    According to my book, it can be found at markets in Australia, New Zealand, and southwestern Europe (in particular France and Spain). I’m curious about the spread of iceplant from its native southern hemisphere to markets in Europe. Does anybody know how this happened?

    • Thanks for the great suggestions! And I have no idea how the plant jumped from South Africa to European markets, but I’m very curious too. :)

  • Ursula

    I grew up in South Africa, and although I recognize the picture of the plant in the link you provide, I never knew of anyone eating them or dreaming of eating them! To us they were just “vetplant” (a generic term “fat plants” given to all the flowering arid plants with thick leaves), which grew wild or sometimes in gardens. Who knew?!

  • I’m glad you shared this post as I had never heard of this green before.

  • I have never had this green and I am intrigued. I love to try them in salad first.

  • Tanya

    Thanks for this! I love intriguing greens and will definitely try to grow this in the very dry soil I have in our garden.
    Now that spring is here I’m looking forward to Fiddleheads – my Nana picks them from her garden in Ontario and sends them to me in Alberta. My favourite way to prepare them is simple; sautee with olive oil and finish with cracked pepper and lemon.

    • I believe fiddleheads are absolutely unknown here, but I wish they caught on!

  • I did.. can’t quite remember how was cooked, if it comes back to mind I’ll let you know :-)


  • I’ve never heard of this. The leaves are a beautiful shape. Always nice to learn about new greens. :)

  • I am quite intrigued, and will forward your post to a few “foodie friends” (hate the term, but… ) from Brazil. Maybe they’ve seen it in farmer’s markets in Sao Paulo, they are huge and have a large fraction of oriental farmers who often sell very exotic ingredients.

  • F David Bower

    M – I daresay the one found down here in Australia and NZ markets is tertragon (aka NZ spinach, warrigal greens). See here.

    I have it in my yard, and among other things it works brilliantly in a fish florentine – particularly when the fish is robust in flavour and/or a bit oily, so can handle balacing something a bit more spicy and complex than spinach. It also lacks the earthy taste of spinach or silverbeet (chard), which can be handy sometimes.

    Never seen this ice plant stuff though. Looks a bit like pigface – does it have edible fruit anyone?

  • Oh my, I feel as if I should be looking not only for this tasty sounding green, but perhaps a Green’s School? Since this does not sound as if it is readily available in the Rocky Mountains, you have certainly piqued my interest to explore what yummy greens I might find here that I have not been previously exposed to. Thank you for the most informative post.

    • ahenry72

      Don’t know if you are interested in growing greens yourself, but my husband and I used to grow the plant David mentions above (tertragon/NZ spinach)in Colorado in the summer (but out in the plains, not the mountains) and it did great. It spread like crazy in our garden. It’s a very heat tolerant plant, which makes it a good summer green option. We now live in Mississippi and it LOVES the summer heat here. It has thick, crunchy leaves, and as David also mentioned, a more “neutral” flavor, which makes it quite versatile.

  • Very interesting to read about, but so far I’ve never seen this in any market.

  • I’d love to find a recipe for your Japanese-style vinaigrette..
    Not in the search files so far.
    Love your stories in the Eurostar magazine btw.

    • I don’t really have a recipe for it, I just mix by feel and make a vinaigrette as I would with red wine vinegar and olive oil, only I use rice vinegar and a touch of sesame oil (not too much as it’s rather potent), some soy sauce instead of salt, a bit of miso paste if I have it, and toasted sesame seeds. I taste and adjust as I go along.

  • Where do you find this? I’ve never seen it at any common grocery store in France. Or perhaps I’ve just missed it.

    • It’s not the kind of green you would find at the grocery store, but rather from growers and produce vendors that offer uncommon varieties. I find it at the Batignolles organic greenmarket in Paris.

  • ohhhh i love this so much! my best friend used to buy it on a little farmer’s market in hamburg once a week. since we both no longer live in hamburg we don’t have a chance to eat it anymore. which is quite sad. it’s the perfect spring/summer salad because it is so refreshing. we both want to grow it but this is also a little bit difficult. you can’t find the seeds in ‘normal’ greenhouses as well. but i will be persistent. one day i will grow it on my balcony ;-) thanks for sharing.

    • If you’re interested in growing it, I’ve seen the seeds sold on online seed shops. Let us know if you do!

  • mary w.

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ve been trying to figure out the name of this vegetable for a year now. We had this in a salad at a restaurant in Newport, RI last year. I LOVED it, but our server told us it was a type of frisee so I was never able to figure out what it was. So glad to have stumbled on this…will definitely try to grow in the future.

  • I first had ficoide glaciale at a restaurant called Stella Maris in Paris. I have been trying to find a U.S. source for the seeds for years, as we can’t bring seeds into California due to strict agricultural laws. Anyone know of a North American source for the seeds? I am quite sure this will grow in my coastal southern California backyard.

    • june2

      I just ordered it from Canada, here.

      And have read that it’s available at Portland, OR farmer’s markets, so someone must have seeds out there or else brought them back from Europe.

    • Julie N

      Available this year from Pinetree Garden Seeds!

    • Kevin

      I know this is REALLY behind but I just found this blog. I have seen this succulent growing on the rocky cliff side and just before the sand on the beaches at point Dume in Malibu. So I know it grows out here! Just take a look in spring and early summer and transplant one for your garden then keep the seeds

      • Wonderful, thanks for letting us know! If it seems like a clean/unpolluted spot, that’s a free lunch for you!

  • This looks like our New Zealand spinach -it is cultivated but grows wild on some beaches. I looked it up and ours is tetragonia tetragonoides so they are related. Now I will look forward to trying your recipes!

    cheers and thanks for sharing

  • Ricky

    Pramil Restaurant (9, rue du Vertbois, Paris 3rd district) has a salad of iceplant, shrimps, and tomatoes confit. It’s nearly always on the menu — in fact, I had it yesterday!

  • Kai Wang
  • Kai Wang

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