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Wild Foods by any Other Name Would Taste as Good (with apologies to Shakespeare) - An article series about authentic Australian ingredients
- Thursday, 18 July 2013 07:07 | Written by Vic Cherikoff
To start, let’s get the terminology right because “oils ain’t oils”, as they say. Bush tucker is what Aborigines eat in the bush. Bushfoods might be found in a city landscape. However, these days, authentic Australian ingredients are part of a sophisticated movement to select the best forms, flavours and functionality (generally a nutritional or other health benefit) and grow them in clean and green, ecologically diverse and environmentally sustainable (synthetic-chemical free) plantations or sourced from equally sustainable, managed wild harvests.
However, one aspect of this new food development which I admire most is the acknowledgement of Fair Trade practices and like my own organisation, just how we continue to involve Aborigines in the development of an industry based on their traditional resources.
Going back some 30 years now and having selected the species and then fostered the ecologically responsible production of these unique and delicious ingredients, my attention turned to establishing what is now becoming the newest trend in eating: To create an authentic Australian cuisine using the herbs, spices, fruits, nuts, seeds and food adjuncts along with the seasonings, sauces, preserves, infusions, natural extracts, purees and concentrates made from them.
My background is as a scientist in Applied Biology with a passion for environmental biology. My first professional position was in clinical pharmacology but my life changed with my second job which was on a research grant in nutritional science This was specifically researching Aboriginal bushfoods. This professional background followed my teenage years as a foraging bushwalker where testing various fruits entailed a refined taste and spit technique. However, even then, it was not an unguided blind trial as this could quickly harm you or worse. I liken it to doing the same in a supermarket where you might survive nibbling the dog and cat food but the oven cleaner would put paid to further ‘research’. Anyway, the supermarket staff might not appreciate the spit part of my method. What I used were the few references available in the 1970s and about our indigenous food resources but I ignored the writers’ views on the culinary qualities which were generally uncomplimentary. I believe that the reason for this lack of appreciation by early culinary explorers was in part due to their inability to choose between the equivalent of the banana skin or the flesh or even to choose when a fruit or nut was actually ripe enough to be worth taste testing.
What resulted from my widespread sampling and at the time, unorthodox approach, were a few dozen ingredients as the first cut of a resource of what might ultimately reach several hundred totally new foods and flavours. But let me put this into perspective: There are an estimated 25,000 plant species in Australia and a subset of these account for the 2500 different plant foods which were spread across the 600 Aboriginal clans in Australia pre-invasion. Even producing just 30 new foods could and is contributing to the development of our own, unique cuisine which reflects the wide open spaces of the Outback or deep, cool rainforests of Far North Queensland or the steamy tropical Top End and then everything in between.
Simple sprinkles; drizzles; toss and stir; or add and bake tricks with many of the ingredients will easily turn familiar dishes at home into meals with real Wow factor!
Your favourite steak (it can be beef rather than roo) with a mushroom cream sauce scented with Wattleseed and Forest Anise.
Roast leg of lamb with Illawarra plum sauce (add chilli or some coconut milk if you wish)
Murray salt (or Saltbush) and Alpine pepper squid
Chicken with Lemon myrtle scented honey soy on Wild mintbush noodles
Pork ribs crusted in Red Desert Dust served with kumara mash scented with Paperbark smoke oil
Lamb shanks with Rainforest lime confit and coriander gremolata over a Wildfire spiced taro mash
And some sweets dishes could be:
Wattleseed pavlova with Riberry confit
Rainforest parfait made with Kakadu plum jelly, Lemon aspen cream cheese, Wild rosella confit cream and toasted macadamia nuts
Medley of Forest anise, Wattleseed and Fruit spice ice creams
But authentic Australian foods are not just versatile, deliciously appealing ingredients which have the longest history of use by the world's oldest living culture. They are now being recognised as having amazing health properties as different areas of their functionality are researched.
The following table presents an overview of the health properties of some of the constituents of popular authentic Australian ingredients.
Alpine Pepper (& pepperberry): anti-arthritic, antioxidant, improves circulation
Forest Anise: phytoestrogenic, anti-senility, immune stimulant
Illawarra plum: High in soluble fibre, antioxidant, micro-sugar rich
Kakadu plum: vitamin C, other antioxidants, soluble fibre
Lemon myrtle sprinkle: tonic, stimulant, anti-microbial
Sundry fruits, eg lemon aspen: flavenoids, vitamin C, folate, anti-cancer
Wattleseed: slow release carbohydrate, low GI, factor K induction
Wild rosella: antioxidant, potentially lowers blood pressure, restorative
Interestingly, the antioxidant levels of the above and other Australian fruits appear to be hard to beat. From my work in the 1980s, we know that the Kakadu or Kalari plum is the world’s highest fruit source of vitamin C but folates, ellagic and gallic acids raise the antioxidant capacity to record highs.
Illawarra plums, Pepperberries and Wild rosellas leave blueberries for dead when it comes to free radical scavenging power.
Even the herbal mixes of Alpine pepper, Forest anise and Lemon myrtle sprinkle are like health stores in themselves. The first contains a powerful anti-arthritic principle which also has a strong anti-microbial action and is particularly effective against Candida. The other two herbals are immune boosters and one compound I include in all of the mixes is currently in clinical trials investigating its potential in treating senile dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by chemically stimulating the learning centre of the brain.
New products are appearing with functionality in mind. One nutritional supplement is a whole food, puree blend of 12 different fruits and herb extracts. Wild foods are also rich in trehalose or Resurrection Sugar™, a micro-sugar which open up a world of disease prevention functionality.
If we choose our ingredients for their unique tastes, ease of use and nutritional value (in that order) then authentic Australian products have much to offer. Knowing that increasing the range of our food choices can also only be good for us imparts an added advantage. I urge you to seek out and partake in this new trend and taste Australia for your own benefit and anyone for whom you choose to cook.
Should anyone wish to learn more about the cuisine possibilities, planning Australian menus and the specific ingredients available, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org asking for Guide and Glossary in the subject line and I’ll send you a 44 page ebook and a glossary on the ingredients.