Australia ups the ante on its native food, serving up croc carpaccio and emu pate.
Think bush tucker is all witchetty grubs and kangaroo meat? A scientist who specialises in indigenous Australian food is on a mission to change your mind.
Worth an estimated $14 million a year, the native foods industry in Australia includes delicacies such as crocodile sausages, lemon myrtle sauces, mountain pepper cheese and red desert dust bread.
Chic restaurants around the country also serve up foods traditionally consumed by Australia’s indigenous Aborigines, but with a modern twist, including bush tomato with pepperberry creme fraiche, emu pate and fruit chutneys.
“We’ve all moved on from witchetty grubs and kangaroo, it’s sort of like talking about the gramophone at a time when we’re using wireless transmission,” says scientist Vic Cherikoff, a research pioneer in the field of authentic Australian foods.
“We’ve got yoghurt, beers, seasonings, sauces, bread, cheeses, juices – native ingredients are now in everything,” he said. “We’ve also got a new bread containing red desert dust. It’s really earthy and really spunky.”
Cherikoff believes native foods are nutritionally dense and according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation (CISRO), he is credited with proving that the native Kakadu plum contains the world’s highest known dose of vitamin C in a fruit.
Responding to a recent study that suggested only tourists enjoy indigenous food, Cherikoff said it had become ubiquitous in Australian supermarkets and restaurants.
“Supermarkets are jammed with native products, if it was only tourists eating them, then they wouldn’t be there for long,” he said. “Kangaroo is everywhere.”
ETHICAL, ENVIRONMENTAL FOOD?
At Sydney’s Deep Blue Bistro the menu includes crocodile carpaccio and Ochre in Queensland serves Barramundi, a local fish, in spring rolls with wild lime dripping sauce.
Even Australia’s early colonial settlers enjoyed native foods. It is believed Prince Alfred, the son of Britain’s Queen Victoria, was served kangaroo tail soup and emu-egg omelette during a visit in 1868 and a Queensland menu from the 1860s included cockatoo fricassee.
According to CSIRO, the benefits of cultivating Australian native foods include creating jobs and income for largely disadvantaged Aboriginal communities, as well as preserving Australia’s heritage.
Indigenous food plants are also more environmentally friendly, utilising less water and withstanding extreme conditions, while commercially farmed kangaroos produce much less methane than beef cows.
Cherikoff believes this would all play in favour of native foods, especially with increasing public awareness about the health benefits of food and its effect on the environment.
“We’ve got Aboriginal communities coordinating and gaining a new meaning to their life because there’s traditional resources having a brand new meaning on a global scale,” he said.
The CSIRO reported that its popularity established in Australia, the majority native foods have yet to make a big impression overseas, mainly due to their seasonal nature and because suppliers have yet to guarantee a high quality produce
There are a few exceptions: according to Cherikoff, wattle seed, that has hints of coffee, hazelnut and chocolate when roasted, is used to flavour ice cream sold to US manufacturers and bread containing the seed is sold throughout Switzerland.