What Australian native wild ingredients?

Tuesday, 11 July, 2017

Exactly! Barring lemon myrtle, macadamia nuts and a couple of others, most of us have no idea what native wild ingredients are out there, let alone how to use them or commercialise their production.

To build a successful and sustainable native food industry in Australia, we first have to know a few things:

  • Which native plants are used by Indigenous communities?
  • What is the nutritional profile and potential for bioactive compounds of Aboriginal food plants?
  • Does it have food potential?
  • Can potential ingredients be commercially grown and harvested?

The answers to these questions are now being sought following a $1.25 million South Australian government grant to the Orana Foundation. A research partnership between the foundation and the University of Adelaide has been set up to support the development of an Australian native food industry.

At his Orana restaurant in Adelaide, Jock Zonfrillo uses native ingredients. He founded the Orana Foundation with the aim to foster the research and cultivation of native Australian ingredients for the benefit of remote Indigenous communities.

Combining this with the University of Adelaide’s extensive research capability in food-related areas, the research partnership will seek to understand more about the food ingredients that exist, their nutritional profile, their potential use in foods, and how they can best be cultivated and produced for commercial use.

There are four research components to the partnership:

  • Building a native food database (in collaboration with South Australian Museum and Botanic Gardens of South Australia). The collation of a new comprehensive database of existing and new knowledge of native plants used by Indigenous communities will draw on anthropological and botanical sources, with culturally significant practice shared with Zonfrillo in working with remote Indigenous communities.
  • Conducting a food qualities assessment. The Australian Bioactive Compounds Centre (a joint centre between the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia) will assess the nutritional profile and potential for bioactive compounds of Aboriginal food plants, in particular looking at their sugar, protein, vitamin, antioxidant and fibre content, and glycaemic index.
  • Food flavours assessment. Ingredients that have a high nutritional profile and great taste and flavour will be assessed as food potential. Chefs from the Orana Foundation will work with the University of Adelaide’s FOODplus Research Centre to determine the optimal preparation and cooking requirements for these native plant species, which will then be assessed for flavour, texture and visual appeal. A new experimental kitchen facility will be established at the university’s Waite campus.
  • Plant production assessment. Optimal cultivation conditions for high-potential food plants will be assessed for commercial horticulture. Growth trials will be carried out simulating arid or semi-arid environments in dry undercover facilities.
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