Native foods study
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
"Yes. With no caffeine. And you
can also put it into desserts and pastas and breads. It's quite
Dr Ryder says the CSIRO are using a
series of trials to evaluate how well certain species grow in certain
"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,
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.