A novel environmentally sensitive superabsorbent composite was synthesized via the gamma (γ)-irradiation graft copolymerization of sodium acrylate onto a homogeneous blend of natural salep and alumina in an aqueous medium. The reaction parameters (i.e., acrylic acid amount, neutralization percentage, alumina/salep weight ratio, and γ-irradiation total dose) affecting the water absorbency of the hydrogel composite were optimized by using a systematic method in order to achieve a composite with as high a swelling capacity as possible. FTIR spectroscopy was used to confirm the structure of the final product. Morphology of the synthesized composite was examined by scanning electron microscopy. The swelling behavior of the optimum superabsorbent composite was measured in various environments, and the results showed excellent on–off switching behaviors which made this novel smart composite material a nominee that can potentially be used in agriculture, pharmaceutics, and biosensors. J. VINYL ADDIT. TECHNOL., 2011. © 2011 Society of Plastics Engineers