Forget matcha, raw cacao and goji berries, there’s an abundance of native superfoods and they are right here on our doorstep. Long used by Indigenous Australians, but largely neglected for many decades, native foods and good ol’ Australian bush tucker are now the hottest ingredients to hit Australian taste buds. These ingredients are changing the way people think about Australian cuisine demonstrating that we’re more than just a melting pot of multicultural food from our foreign shores. Native foods are our original local produce, and they are found in our own backyard.
From muntries and warrigal greens, to Kakadu plums and mountain pepper, native foods are being embraced by some of Australia’s leading restaurants. A new breed of Australian chefs are promoting the use of Indigenous ingredients to be more than just kangaroo and lemon myrtle. Native foods are also gaining popularity as a more mainstream ingredient on the international stage. At Brae in Birregurra, chef and owner, Dan Hunter, has created a produce-driven menu (most of which is grown at his own property), which celebrates Indigenous ingredients in all their glory. Native ingredients are now being celebrated as a core flavour rather than a sideshow.
Over in the Yarra Valley, executive chef at Oakridge Wines, Matt Stone, is equally passionate about native foods. Stone’s menu changes with the seasons, and is adapted to create a selection of dishes based on the availability and quality of surrounding produce. A keen forager, Stone regularly uses ingredients foraged in the surrounding Yarra Valley and stresses the importance of sustainable foraging. Native ingredients including wattleseed, muntries, cinnamon myrtle, riberry and sunrise lime are just some of the foods which grace the menu, a perfect substitute to European and other introduced ingredients. Think kangaroo finished with native greens and sandalwood nuts, or an 864 pumpkin paired with macadamia, mountain pepper and garlic.
But it’s not just Victoria’s regional restaurants which are enjoying the native food resurgence. One of Melbourne’s most popular brunch spots, Street Talk Espresso, heroes Kakadu Plum Powder on their ‘Feelin Fruity Granola’, while Charcoal Lane in Fitzroy offers seasonally inspired dishes infused with native ingredients like pan seared emu fillet with beetroot and lemon myrtle risotto, and paperbark-wrapped seasonal vegetables with truffle oil.
Indigenous ingredients are becoming so mainstream that many producers and farms are now specialising in them to keep up with demand. This has the danger of becoming a sustainability issue in the long-term, however.
Peppermint Ridge Farm in West Gippsland’s Tynong North is not a stranger to native foods, and has been successfully growing them for over 20 years. Their native food garden now features over 40 edible species. Julie Weatherhead and her husband Anthony Hooper are passionate about producing quality bush food. Their aim is to educate people about their health benefits and encourage home cooks and gardeners to add a native foods section to their gardens so they can add these delicious and nutritious plants to their diet every day whilst increasing the habitat levels of their gardens for birds and bees.
“Native foods are the Real Cornucopia – an abundance of food from plants evolved to match Australian environmental conditions that will thrive in Australian gardens and provide a staggering array of nutrients and medicinal benefits. They are the champions of sustainability. They will grow in range of climate conditions, many have low water needs once established, they require minimal fertilisation and grow readily organically,” says Weatherhead.
The Farm’s unique Taste Learn See experiences and cooking classes aim to inspire people about Australia’s unique native foods. Visitors can also enjoy their sumptuous bush food platters for lunch, or morning or afternoon tea, including lemon myrtle muffins and strawberry gum jam drops.
Here are some of the most popular Australian native foods right now:
Kakadu Plum Powder
Kakadu Plum Powder is one of Australia’s superfoods that is 100% wild, harvested by Indigenous Australians. As well as being packed with antioxidants, the Kakadu plum is known to have the highest source of natural Vitamin C of any plant in the world, up to 100 times more than oranges. Best enjoyed in smoothies, smoothie bowls, salads, and sprinkled on top of breakfast bowls, it is one of the best ways to add Vitamin C to your body in a pure, natural and raw form, while also making a positive social impact at the same time.
This elongated, cylindrical rainforest fruit (grown in Queensland and Northern New South Wales) contains juice similar to a lime and has a very intense citrus flavour. Unlike limes, finger limes are filled with tiny juicy beads (almost resembling caviar), which literally pop with flavour. This fruit was once a valuable source of food and medicine for Aboriginal people (often used as an antiseptic) and is rich in folate, potassium and vitamin e.
Finger limes are often used in jams, chutneys, marmalades and sauces and are also extremely popular as a garnish, for example, on a kingfish ceviche. They are now one of the most sought after ingredients in top restaurants around the world.
The wattle flower is a well-known emblem of Australia, and has been a largely unsung hero of the food industry. It has a nutty, savoury flavour profile. Wattleseed has a number of health benefits since it contains calcium, iron, zinc and potassium. It is most commonly roasted and ground (similar to coffee) before it’s used in cooking. Wattleseed is a versatile ingredient in the kitchen and can be used in cakes, sauces and even ice cream. Note that not all acacias are suitable for consumption.
A staple of the Indigenous diet, quandongs are a crimson-bright fruit, which can be eaten raw or dried. Quandongs are often referred to as a “native peach.” They have a sweet and slightly salty taste. They also have a range of health benefits since they are high in vitamin c, vitamin e, folate, magnesium, zinc and calcium. They are often used to make jam or chutneys or in desserts.
The mountain pepper is a native species found in the open forest or temperate rainforest of Tasmania, Victoria and southeast New South Wales. Mountain pepper was historically used for its antiseptic properties and was also a popular food preservative and flavour enhancer. Since it is high in antioxidants, mountain pepper is bursting with health benefits. It has an aromatic and spicy flavour and is commonly used as a marinade for seasoning, added to dukkah and other dips. Both the mountain pepper leaf and its berries can be used for cooking. The fruit may be used fresh or dried, and often as an alternative to pepper.