Wattleseed and thyme ‘damper’ – bread handmade by Aboriginal women – followed by quince and lemon myrtle syrup cake…
“Indigenous Australian food”. It’s one of today’s hottest trends, highlighted by nearly every single ‘Featured Chef’ that Life On the Pass has interviewed.
And for good reason – “sustainability”, and the growing movement for buying ‘local’ produce. The value of fresh ingredients, and the support of local producers, is increasingly tied in with issues such as, reduced food miles, and environmental protection.
Creative possibilities of indigenous fusion cuisine
Time and time again, the chefs we have interviewed point to an increased use in farmers’ markets, community gardens and local food boxes. Many of the restaurants where they work specialise in ‘farm to table’ cuisine. Increasingly, Australian chefs are exploring the endless creative possibilities of indigenous fusion cuisine as part of a growing shift towards food sustainability.
Aboriginal Australian farming practices and food preparation are now championed by many of today’s chefs as leading the way forward in our thinking about ‘local’ food sourcing and sustainability.
Aboriginal Australians have continuously cultivated native crops
There’s no doubt that the trend for ‘indigenous’ ingredients is jumping ever higher on Australian ‘fusion’ menus. Most apt then, is “Kangaroo Pie” – transformed from a standard sausage roll – with puff pastry and a Kangaroo mixture, then slowly cooked till nicely crisp.
“Bush tucker” – as it’s more popularly known – includes indigenous fauna, flora, and wild meats such as kangaroo, alligator, snake, witchetty grubs and insects. Better recognition for their nutritional value started from around the 1970s. A decade later, Kangaroo meat was widely available in supermarkets.
Providing greater abundance, nutrition and food diversity
However, aboriginal Australians have continuously domesticated and cultivated native crops for more than 60,000 years! Once simply considered as nomadic hunter-gatherers, their sustainable agricultural methods – living from and caring for the land – is being viewed with very different eyes today.
Australian ‘native’ crops, and their cultivation, are increasingly recognised as being better adapted to local temperature and environmental pressures, and providing greater abundance, nutrition and food diversity.
Indigenous people have always consumed a large variety of plant foods
Health and nutrition professionals constantly refer to the big message of focusing our eating habits on a daily diet rich in a wide number of plant based foods. It’s sometimes assumed that aboriginal cooking was centred on meats such as kangaroos, porcupine, emu, possum, goanna, turtle, shellfish and fish.
But the reality is that indigenous people have always consumed a large variety of plant foods, fruits, nuts, roots, vegetables, grasses and seeds – as well as the different wildlife meats, fish and insects.
Native bush foods are even being hyped as Australian ‘superfoods’
Many native bush foods are now well known for their medicinal qualities, and are even being hyped as Australian ‘superfoods’, such as Riberries, Kakadu plums, finger limes, Lemon myrtle, and the Quandong – commonly known as a ‘wild peach’. Used as both food and medicine, this bright red fruit contains twice the levels of vitamin C as an orange, and is higher in antioxidants folate, magnesium, iron and calcium than blueberries.
Probably, one of the most identifiable of ‘bush tucker’ plants harvested and sold in large-scale commercial quantities, is the Macadamia nut, which is rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and healthy fats.
Staple flavour enhancer in making all types of foods
Another native plant is the Lemon myrtle, heavily aromatic and contains high mineral levels including, calcium zinc magnesium, vitamins A and E. Australians are increasingly find their taste for western cooking ‘fused’ with aboriginal foods, such as Lilli Pilli chicken lollipop and Lemon myrtle ice-tea.
Commonly found in hair care products, Lemon myrtle is also a staple flavour enhancer in making all types of foods, such as dips, sauces, salads, curries, chicken, fish, prawns, and even therapeutic beverages.
The health benefits of “bush tucker” have surely helped to propel Australian native produce to superfood status, and becoming a permanent menu favourite, such as Char-Grilled Kangaroo and Veggies, and Pepperberry, which boasts three times more anti-oxidants than blueberries!
Desert shrub that packs that extra salty punch
Many Australians are increasingly familiar with Saltbush. It’s the leaves of this desert shrub that packs that extra salty punch they love in their grilled meat and seafood! Perhaps served with the yam daisy, Murnong, a starchy root vegetable that can be roasted like a potato.
Staying in the outback, we find the desert bush tomato Kutjera, a sundried fruit often added to sauces and marinades.
Newable and environmentally balanced farming
Australia continues to see and feel at first hand the terrible devastation wrought by the global climate crisis, through increased droughts and out of control bush fires. But climate change is also causing severe loss of biodiversity and poor soil.
Urgent measures involving more renewable and environmentally balanced farming, and land management practices are urgently needed.
They go hand in hand with types of food cultivation ultimately destined for the consumer plate.
Taking a sustainability leaf out of the plant cookbook of indigenous Australian peoples looks to be a natural solution that not only chefs should increasingly adopt.