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Native foods study

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ABC Western Victoria

Wednesday, 14 December  2005 

Reporter: Fiona Parker 

Imagine if quandongs, wattle seeds, mountain pepper, the bush tomato, and native citrus fruits such as desert limes all had pride of place in the fresh food part of our supermarkets.

They soon will, if a group of researchers from the CSIRO have their way. They've been working with a small group of people from across southern Australia, exploring the development of native food plants in order to make them into a viable industry. The project covers a wide area, including a trial of wattle seeds at Stawell.

Dr Marten Ryder, who is leading the project, says people don't appreciate the food native to this country.

I think most people just don't realise how good they are. And to some extent people might have thought of native foods as just simply survival food that's totally unappetising. But that's not the case. Aboriginal people certainly did quite well on them for many tens of thousands of years, so I think it's about time we really did embrace what is growing here."

For example, Dr Ryder says native citrus fruits would go well over a fish.

We can just substitute some of these native foods for other ingredients that you might normally use. Also, [you can use] mountain pepper instead of pepper. It's just a bit spicier. You can use lemon myrtle instead of lemongrass or lemons."

And what about wattle seeds?

You can't eat the seed of some species, but many species of wattle have edible seeds, especially after roasting and grinding. They go very well in a range of foods. In fact, if you give someone some roasted ground wattle seeds just to smell the aroma, it reminds them of coffee, and you can use it as a coffee substitute."


"Yes. With no caffeine. And you can also put it into desserts and pastas and breads. It's quite versatile."

Dr Ryder says the CSIRO are using a series of trials to evaluate how well certain species grow in certain areas.

"We're trying to grow a number of different native food species in different places - basically the same set of plant species - and compare how they perform. So we're trying to help people identify for their region which native foods they might be able to grow successfully."

At the moment, the research team is starting to collect information on yields.

"We planted a whole set of plants in 2001 and it's 2005 now so we're really starting to come into measuring yields of, for example, wattle, and it's pretty important to be able to measure these yields because that's where the economics of the whole thing turns. You need to be able to produce a decent yield and also to be able to harvest it at a reasonable cost to be competitive."

You also have to be able to market it, which means changing people's perception of what these foods are, what they can be used for, and how they can taste.

Education and marketing need to go together with these foods," says Dr Ryder, who's starting with, well, himself.

Our kitchen has changed in the last few years. It's got a whole lot of native food ingredients in it these days. For example, I made a banana cake with wattle seed in it the other day which seemed to go down quite well with the family! Everyone who's working on this project with us ends up putting native food ingredients into their kitchens."

And hopefully many more people will in the future.


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