Issue 5

RIRDC R&D News - From the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation

Planning for the future

RIRDC funded a meeting with representatives of the several bushfood Industry Associations in Melbourne on 10 December with the aim of progressing the development of an R&D plan for the industry. Readers may recall that the drafting of an R&D plan for the industry started at a RIRDC-sponsored workshop held in Canberra in February 1997.

The participants worked their way carefully through the widely circulated third draft of the plan and considered each of the twenty-odd responses to RIRDC's bushfood questionnaire.

Perhaps the most crucial issue arising was the need for the R&D plan to reflect more clearly the value to the industry of Aboriginal knowledge and customs and to encourage the greater involvement of Aboriginal people in the industry.

Proposed research objectives:

(1) Understanding markets,

(3) Food safety and

(4) Profitable and ecologically sustainable production systems were considered to be important, with

(5) Enhancing the industry's human resource base being crucial to the achievement of all three of the previously mentioned objectives.

It is hoped to circulate a fourth draft of the plan among industry members and other interested parties no later than March. Copies of the plan will be available from RIRDC's Melanie Lane on: 02 6272 4029

Please feel free to have your say before the die is cast.

Research proposal and funding for 1998/99

RIRDC received 15 Preliminary Research Proposals for bushfood as part of its 1998/99 funding round. A joint Bushfood Industry-RIRDC evaluation panel will vet these proposals against the priorities that are emerging from the previously mentioned planning workshops. Projects best meeting industry needs will be developed for further evaluation as Full Research Proposals, with funding of accepted proposals typically commencing in July 1998.

Alternative projects will be commissioned if none of the Preliminaries fit the bill.

It is expected that RIRDC funding for bushfood R&D in 1998/99 will total about $130,000 with $80,000 of this being available for projects starting in July 1998.

Further information

Information on bushfood research, on RIRDC-funded R&D and on our diverse range of publications can be obtained from Melanie Lane on 

  • Ph: 02 6272 4029 or Fax: 02 6272 5877. 

  • Our homepage is: www.rirdc.gov.au

  • PO Box 4776, Kingston ACT 2604 

  • David Evans General Manager, Research New Industries

The Desert Raisin and Other Solanum

Extract from Peter Latz's Book "Bushfires & Bushtucker", IAD Press

The region in question
Solanum fruits

Plants of this genus are widespread throughout Central Australia and are found in most habitats. They are most common in areas where two plant communities overlap (inter zone areas) and usually only venture out of these areas into areas where the more stable plant communities have been disturbed in some way. Generally fire disturbance most favours their spread. All of the Central Australian Solanum species are clonal and have the ability to spread by producing new plants from their roots. The 18 native Solanum species known to occur in the area can be arranged into five groups:

1.  Inedible species

Of the 18 species so far known to occur in Central Australia, nine produce inedible fruit and are avoided by the Aboriginal people. The fruits of most of these species can be easily distinguished because they become hard and bone-like when dry. While still immature, however, they can be difficult to distinguish from the edible species.

2.  Soft-fruited species

Four of the species have rather soft fruit which quickly rot, or are invaded by grubs after they reach maturity. These are gathered as soon as they ripen and the whole fruit is usually eaten on the spot (eg. Solanum ellipticum).

3. Species remaining edible  after maturity and having edible seeds 

Of the two species falling into this category, Solanum centrale, the desert raisin, occurs throughout Central Australia and was a very important food plant. The fruit can be eaten whole as soon as they ripen although if too many are eaten a headache can often result. However, when the fruit dries to about the texture of a raisin, it remains on the plant and can be gathered for some months after the plant has died. Eventually the fruit becomes black and unappetising, especially if spoilt by rain, but is still edible in an emergency.

Aboriginal people sometimes gather the fruit in large quantities and then grind them into a thick paste. This paste is then rolled into a ball, which is usually covered with a thin layer of` red ochre and then dried in the sun. In the past, the balls were stored in a safe place, such as in the bark of a tree or on the top of an abandoned shelter, to be used at some later date.

Before use, sometimes a year or more later, they were either soaked for a period in water or ground with water into a paste and then eaten uncooked.

The second species in this category, Solanum esuriale, is a less common plant in Central Australia. It also has fruit which remains on the bush after maturity but, although they retain their moisture for a longer period than the desert raisin, when dry they have a harder texture.

The fruit of the desert raisin has quite a high protein content, mostly contained in the seeds. When the fruit is eaten untreated much of the protein is lost as most of` the seeds pass through the alimentary tract and are not digested. Grinding the fruit breaks up many of the seeds and tends to make this protein more available.

     Solanum nigrum

Photo from `The Bushfood Handbook'

4. Species with inedible seeds

Two species, Solanum chip-pendalei and Solanum diver-sifolium, have very bitter seeds. The fruits are large, about the size of an apricot, and have a rather thick outer rind. The fruit is cut in half and the black inedible seeds removed with a special wooden spatula. The rinds are either eaten immediately or spliced onto a thick stick and then dried in the sun or near a fire. The dried husks, still threaded on the sticks, are then stored away for later use.

Before use they are either soaked in water or ground with water into a paste. The fruit of these species, when ripe, have considerable keeping qualities and will remain on the plant for a month or more. They usually spoil, however, before they dry. They have high vitamin C and carbohydrate values but low protein values.

5. Species requiring treatment

Solanum coactiliferum, the only species in this category, has fruit which are too bitter to be eaten without treatment. The fruit is processed by breaking them up between two stones and then thoroughly squeezing the resultant mass between the hands to remove the bitter juice. Sometimes water is added and the process repeated. The resultant paste is usually cooked before eating.

The fruit remain on the bush for a considerable period before spoiling, and are therefore available when other plant foods are scarce. This fruit is not utilised by people in the north who instead apparently utilise other more favourable subtropical plants which do not occur in the south (eg. the bush potato).

Carbohydrate-rich plant foods are not common in the Central Australian diet. This group of plants is an exception and is highly valued for this reason. As an added bonus, they all have high vitamin C values, and in some cases, quite high protein values as well.


Some Solanum species names in Aboriginal languages From `Bushfires & Bushtucker'

Language group Species Name
Alyawarr language S. centrale:


S. ellipticum:





S. esuriale arntek-arntek
  S. chippendalei anemangkerr

Anmatyerr language:

S. chippendalei anakety


S. ellipticum ararnt




S. centrale: katyerr

Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara language

S. chippendalei: ngaru


S. ellipticum yuralpa


S. centrale kati kati




* Akatjera

(Bush tomato - Solanum centrale)

Whole or ground

* Seed of Acacia victoriae

R & K Horner

1 Grundy St

Alice Springs

NT 0870

Ph/Fax: (08)8952 8583