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Boab root industry starting to bear fruit

4th October 2006, 10:15 WST

The roots of the iconic boab tree are providing WA with a potential new agricultural industry.

Peter Fox and Denise Hales, of Kununurra, have become the world's first commercial baby boab growers and hope to become part of WA's $400 million horticulture industry.

They admit that tempting people to eat the little-known bush tucker is not proving easy but the Department of Agriculture and Food is helping them realise the venture's prospects.

The department has helped the couple research the viability of commercially growing and marketing the crop.

They received a Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation grant for the project.

The boab tree (Adansonia gregorii) is an icon in the Kimberley but the concept of a crop is relatively new. Ms Hales said she and Mr Fox had been growing the roots since 2001 but this was the first year their business, Boabs in the Kimberley, looked like having commercial success.

She said local people and restaurants had incorporated the food in their meals but it was harder to encourage the wider market.

Baby boabs are grown from planting boab seedlings and within 16 weeks become a tuber up to 30cm long, with fresh, edible leaves.

Ms Hales said the tubers had a crisp, crunchy texture like a water chestnut and a refreshing taste, while the leaves had a nutty flavour.

"They are really versatile and can be used in salads, stir-fries or grated and used in quiche or cakes," she said.

Liz Green, the Agriculture Department’s horticulture technical officer in Kununurra, said their research had found the tubers were grown in Madagascar but as backyard produce rather than commercially.

"Other people are interested here but are waiting to see if the tubers are popular in the market," she said.

Frasers Restaurant head chef Greg Farnan said he had incorporated the vegetable into various dishes, including salads, curries or laksas and seafood.

"I don't think it will ever be a staple vegetable like a pumpkin or broccoli but it is a product that is easy to incorporate into dishes and it has a fresh, crisp and sweet taste," he said.

Gabrielle Knowles


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