Forget kombucha, hemp and fake meat. There’s one growing food trend that is uniquely Australian: native ingredients.
Globally acclaimed Australian restaurants such as Melbourne’s Attica and Adelaide’s Orana, are using native ingredients to inspire their menus and their diners’ palates. The Birdcage marquee at last year’s Melbourne Cup served a four-course menu full of native Australian ingredients.
And it’s not just eateries; a growing number of gins, beers, chocolate makers and more are championing these Aussie local ingredients in their recipes.
It’s partly because of their extremely high nutritional value. Another reason is their unique flavours. But a bigger reason driving the trend is sustainability. People are realising that native ingredients are the best thing we can plant and grow. They could save vast amounts of water and remove chemical treatments used in traditional broadacre farming.
With indigenous ingredients making the leap into restaurants and stores, the possibilities are undeniably exciting.
Here are five native ingredients you should know:
1) Kakadu plum
Known as a gift of the Dreamtime, the Kakadu plum has the highest vitamin C content of any fruit in the world – up to 100 times more than an orange. Its exceptional nutritional and antiseptic properties mean it’s been an important food and medicine in Australia for thousands of years, and is now being used in Alzheimer’s research.
The fruit is harvested and consumed from March to June. For the rest of the year, the tree sap is used to treat joint inflammation; the bark is used treat burns, rashes and infections.
Be inspired by… Kakadu Plum Co. sells Kakadu plum powder that can be sprinkled on smoothies.
2) Finger lime
Native to Australia’s northern coast, the finger lime is a fruit of a rare rainforest tree. Like the Kakadu plum, it’s long been a valuable source of food and medicine for Aboriginal people.
Not only is the fruit eaten for its delicious taste, it is filled with folate, potassium, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant in disease prevention and human cell protection.
Be inspired by… Aussie gin company Four Pillars uses finger limes in its Navy Strength Gin.
Wattle grows throughout Australia’s arid and desert areas, so it’s no surprise that the seeds have traditionally been a food source for many Indigenous Australians. Seeds are removed from the pods, dried, roasted and ground into flour. Mixed with water, this makes a dough which is cooked on the fire.
Today, growers are struggling to keep up with demand. People are using wattleseed in hot or cold drinks, baked goods and raw-food recipes thanks to its coffee, chocolate and hazelnut flavour, which make it a good substitute for vanilla.
Be inspired by… Connoisseur’s Wattleseed and Hazelnut ice-cream sticks, which hero a roasted Australian wattleseed sauce.
4) Lemon myrtle
Traditionally used as a healing plant, leaves from this Australian shrub provide a boost of vitamins, nutrients and minerals. The leaves are typically dried and milled to be enjoyed as a tea or steam-distilled to produce an essential oil. The sweet and aromatic flavour makes lemon myrtle a great addition to recipes too.
Be inspired by… Koko Black’s Lemon Myrtle and Venezuelan chocolate, a collaboration with Australian chef Dan Hunter.
Known as the “wild peach”, the quandong berry is a brilliant source of Vitamins C and E, along with folate, magnesium and calcium. The crimson native fruit, which grows throughout most of southern Australia, is also rich in iron and zinc, making it a great substitute for meat. Traditionally, Pitjantjatjara men of the Central and Western Deserts would dry and store the berries to be used when meat was in short supply.
Be inspired by… Black Gate distillery’s Quandong Kernel Eau de Vie is a liqueur created for celebrated Danish chef Rene Redzepi’s Noma pop-up restaurant in Sydney. In Western Australia, Quandong beer has been brewed in Albany, and a Margaret River distiller has created a quandong gin.
Other native ingredients to watch:
- Cinnamon Myrtle – Native to the tropical rainforests of Queensland and New South Wales, the leaves of Cinnamon Myrtle have a spicy, cinnamon-like aroma.
- Aniseed Myrtle – Found in the sub-tropical rainforests in northern NSW, Aniseed Myrtle leaves have a distinct aniseed flavour and fragrance.
- Strawberry Gum – Grown in the NSW Northern Tablelands, Strawberry Gum leaves have a sweet berry flavour.
- Mountain Pepper – Found in the forest and cooler climates of Tasmania, Victoria and southern NSW, Mountain Pepper leaves and berries can be dried and used as a cooking spice. The dried berries are a great substitute to black pepper.
Looking for more information on native ingredients? Check out Australia’s first database of native foods, compiled by the Orana Foundation. It features more than 1,500 ingredients.
And if you don’t want to forget fake meat, then read this quick guide for Australian manufacturers, while here are six reasons Australia’s hemp industry is more than oil + seeds.
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Image credits: iStock/ JanelleLugge (main), bonchan (bottom)