Australia’s native foods offer manufacturers unique, healthy options

Posted by Isobel Drake on 21st October 2009

A new report has revealed what Indigenous Australians have known for years: that the bush contains many native foods that have significant health benefits.The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) commissioned the CSIRO to produce the report Evaluation of Native Foods for Health-Enhancing Compounds.

The report looked at 13 native herbs and spices and fresh fruit samples, including the Kakadu Plum, Desert Lime, Lemon Aspen, Tasmania Pepper Berry, Bush Tomato and Lemon Myrtle.

It found most were exceptionally rich sources of antioxidants, folate, iron and vitamins C and E.

Key findings included:

* All of the species had high levels of folate – including the Australian Desert Lime which has double the recommended daily intake of folate
* Kakadu Plum, Quandong, Tasmania Pepper Leaf, Lemon Myrtle and Anise Myrtle have high antioxidant qualities
* Anise Myrtle has a high level of lutein – a compound that plays an important role in eye health
* Kakadu Plum and Australian Desert Lime had high levels of vitamin C
* Bush Tomato, Tasmania Pepper Leaf and Wattleseed were the richest sources of iron amongst the herbs and spices tested
* Quandong and Lemon Aspen were the richest sources of iron amongst the fruits tested

Mr Burke said the Australian native food industry was relatively small, but growing on the back of more value-added products for tourism and export markets.

The industry is worth an estimated $30 million a year, including farm-gate value and retail sales. Around 15 key species are commercially produced, including through both wild harvest and cultivation.

The industry relies heavily on local Indigenous knowledge and, in the case of some species such as Bush Tomato and Wattleseed, Indigenous people do much of the commercial harvesting.

“Until now, when many people looked at the Australian landscape they saw an empty plate,” Mr Burke noted. “But Indigenous Australians have known for years that there is a banquet in the bush and now the rest of us are catching up.”

“This report will help to highlight new commercial opportunities which could further diversify our agricultural sector.”