Testing kit developed for native bush fruits

Thursday, 05 August, 2021

Testing kit developed for native bush fruits

A portable testing kit that allows Indigenous communities to assess the quality and sweetness of native bush fruits has been developed by University of Queensland (UQ) researchers.

The digital chemistry toolkit could help in the production of native fruits such as Kakadu, Green and Burdekin plums by allowing samples to be tested onsite rather than sent off to food science laboratories.

The ARC Training Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods Director at UQ, Professor Yasmina Sultanbawa, said the kit would help support the knowledge already present in communities by providing scientific measurements to support their observations.

“For instance, people in the community know which trees have the sweetest fruit — but now, with the help of the toolkit, they can measure the sugar levels of fruit on the tree to get an external measure of its sweetness,” Sultanbawa said.

“Indigenous enterprises and interested buyers need to know product supply logistical measurements like the weight and size of the fruit (its pulp to seed ratio); how much sugar and salt content and acidity levels are in the fruit; and moisture levels.”

Professor Sultanbawa said this type of information was required to help understand the stability of the product, its suitability to be processed into a dehydrated powder and the type of packaging needed.

“The toolkit has been designed to address these questions and will be tailored according to the needs of each Indigenous enterprise, depending on their current activities along the value chain.

“By ensuring consistently high-quality products, these enterprises are likely to get repeat, increased and new business, resulting in greater economic and social benefits delivered back into communities.”

The toolkit can be also used to provide information on seasonality, growing conditions and plant physiology for Indigenous enterprises to own and share with future generations.

Developed by UQ’s Dr Anh Phan, the innovation was also supported by funding from the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia as part of the Australian Government’s CRC program and can be used with any native bush fruit.

Dr Anh Phan uses callipers to measure fruit to seed ratio with equipment from the kit.

Djungan Paul Neal, Community Enterprise Developer at the Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council, whose community will house one of two chemistry test kits, said the kit empowered communities.

“We are interested in developing a commercially viable native foods industry, in partnership with industry and research organisations, that utilises traditional knowledge and science, and is led by Aboriginal people with governing intellectual property principles in place,” Neal said.

All the intellectual property generated in these projects will be owned by Indigenous partners.

Professor Sultanbawa said the research team was investigating different sensing technologies communities could use onsite to measure other key properties of their fruit, such as vitamin levels, traceability and provenance.

Image credit: UQ

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