Australian bush tucker seems to be going through a revival of sorts. While it has been the supermarket of choice for many Australians living on the land over preceding centuries, modern-day inhabitants are now realising the incredible array of nutrients, flavours and uses of some commonly found bush foods.
The quandong (Santalum acuminatum), for example, is uniquely Australian and has cleverly adapted to our arid environment. They grow well along coastal areas thanks to a high salt tolerance and get their water and nutrient requirements by tapping into the reserves of nearby plants. The bright red, shiny fruit is high in vitamin C and is often used for making jams and chutneys, but they can also be eaten fresh or dried for later use. The nut is also highly nutritious and the roots and leaves have traditionally been used by Aboriginal people for medicinal purposes.
The black wattle (Acacia sp.) is also becoming modern kitchen favourite. The seeds are incredibly tough, laying dormant on the ground for many years, so have traditionally been an important source of protein and carbohydrate for Aboriginal people in times of drought. The seeds can be ground into flour and made into nutritious breads, or in a modern kitchen roasted and used to thicken sauces, to boost a casserole, or to give a rich nutty flavour to desserts. The black wattle is also known as the ‘witchetty tree’, as it tends to house an abundance of witchetty grubs, another bush tucker favourite, within its roots.
The kurrajong tree (Brachychiton populneus) is another plant that produces nutritious seed pods that can be harvested, roasted and ground into flour. The roasted seeds have even been used as a coffee substitute. Take care if you attempt to harvest the seeds though, the pods contain irritating hairs within them, so it is best to don gloves before opening them up. These trees are now common as ornamentals throughout Australia as they are easily propagated and tolerant to varying tough conditions.
Native herbs and spices are also worth looking into, as they add an amazing flavour dimension to home cooking and invite enthusiastic experimentation to find new family favourites. Keep an eye out for mountain pepper, lemon myrtle, pepperberries, bush tomato and forrestberry herb. Many of these, as well as products from the trees mentioned above, are available online through specialist stores.
There are numerous companies nationwide taking the opportunity to share their favourite local foods and have become very popular places to visit. One such place is the Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery in the Swan Valley, WA, just 35 minutes from Perth CBD. Aboriginal owned and operated, Maalingup offers visitors a variety of cultural activities, including performances, talks, local Aboriginal art and, of course, bush tucker. Here you can not only learn about some amazing foods our Aussie bush has to offer, but sample them to get a feel for how you may be able to incorporate some of these nutritious additions to your kitchen.
On offer is an array of jams and marmalades, sauces, pickles, relishes and chutneys, flavoured oils, vinegars infused with lemon myrtle or bush tomato, dried fruits, herbs, spices and seeds. This place is well worth a visit and a great starting place for those keen to make the most of our unique edible flora and open up a whole new world of flavours.
Visit www.maalinup.com.au for more information.