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Australia Bush food, native plant products to be developed by Indigenous community and University of Queensland

02:58  20 february  2021
02:58  20 february  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Indigenous flavours: where to try Australian bush food in Queensland . Prepare for a bush food -inspired degustation menu to make your mouth water. Highlights include lightly pickled Murray cod, kangaroo sausage and emu served with whey butter, house curd and native pepper.

The modern Australian native food industry, also called the bushfood industry, had its initial beginnings in the 1970s and early 1980s, when regional enthusiasts and researchers started to target local native species for use as food .

a bunch of fruit sitting on a table: The hope to is see native varieties of plants and bush food more widely available. (Supplied: University of Queensland) © Provided by ABC News The hope to is see native varieties of plants and bush food more widely available. (Supplied: University of Queensland)

More native bush products could turn up on shelves as Indigenous groups develop new businesses that champion native plants and bush food, in conjunction with the University of Queensland.

Dale Chapman, an Indigenous chef and adjunct professor at UQ, is spearheading the project.

"When I first started my apprenticeship, there was nothing like bush food on the menu," Ms Chapman said.

"It wasn't until I was head chef at Cafe Le Monde [in Noosa], where I really got introduced to bush foods — and that was 35 years ago.

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While Indigenous communities have long known the benefits of bush tucker such as bunya nuts, lemon aspen, riberries, desert limes and Cape York lilly pilly, the foods remain largely untapped for Australian's food industry. The University of Queensland (UQ) and the Australia Research Council's Training Food scientists will provide research on composition, toxicity and safety, UQ's law school will assist with intellectual property, marketing and branding, and social scientists will monitor the impact on local communities . Associate Professor Sultanbawa said the aim was to push the native foods

"My future endeavour is to make sure that bush food is in everyone's pantry."

To do that, Ms Chapman has joined forces with Melissa Fitzgerald, a professor of food science at UQ, who will bring western science into the equation.

"The project is about empowering Indigenous communities to have more say about their businesses, to grow businesses in both bush foods and horticultural plants," Professor Fitzgerald said.

"For the communities that we're working with, they have some bush foods that are not in the mainstream market at the moment and they are interested in developing bush food products from those plants."

From there, UQ will examine the nutritional value of the products and ensure they comply with food safety legislation.

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Some of the bush foods starting to line his greenhouse benches — and increasingly in demand by the industry — included saltbush, pig face, warrigal greens and samphire. "We've chosen these because of the halophyte aspect to it and the fact we believe we can introduce the saline into our system and get the plants to have "So there's definitely therapeutic properties in these plants and there even seems to be a lot of native ingredients getting used in skincare products , so I wouldn't be surprised if we see some getting used there." As the trend moved away from foraging, Mr Hardwick was not overly

Other traditional food plants have also been planted and are starting to flourish. There's munyeroo, a type of portulaca or pigweed, quandongs or native peach trees as well as marsdenia, often called bush bananas. The munyeroo, a ground hugger that has small yellow flowers and sometimes pink stems, can grow to a metre across "So Aboriginal people didn't need to eat very much to be very healthy, very fit and healthy." For the Quarmbys, overseeing the work here requires a three-day drive from their base in South Australia. But to them the venture is more than finding a good supplier of valuable bush foods .

"A lot of bush foods are nutritionally valuable," Professor Fitzgerald said.

"They have lots of good nutrients, lots of antioxidants, lots of secondary metabolites that have nutraceutical value.

"The thing about Australian native foods is that they're adapted to grow in the Australian environment, so their environmental footprint is much smaller than imported foods that are grown here."

Australia's first scientists

Currently, only 1 per cent of bush food companies in Australia are Indigenous-owned, according to Indigenous alliance Bush Food Sensations, but the project aims to see that figure increase by helping the groups to develop their products.

The project was launched at UQ's Gatton Campus on Thursday thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Australian Research Council, which will fund the academic research and infrastructure needed to produce the plants.

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Australian Native Food and Botanicals (ANFAB) is trying to encourage new producers in the industry and existing growers to plant more crops. The challenge is sourcing enough of the unique native foods to cook with commercially, so Mr Zonfrillo started the Orana Foundation to support farming projects in Indigenous communities to help make products scalable. "Aquaculture, hydroponics or just plain old fashioned farming there are many ways to do it but either way, our desire is to have the community in charge of food production ," he said.

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Additionally, each of the four groups involved in the project will have autonomy over the intellectual property created, so they can commercialise their project.

"I think there is going to be a range of different products: things in the medicinal areas, things that we're going to be able to incorporate into our cooking, there's going to be perhaps nursery items," Ms Chapman said.

"I think this project actually addresses things that our consumers have always wanted: they want to grow the plants, they want to understand the connection to Indigenous peoples and country."

Professor Fitzgerald said Indigenous people were Australia's first scientists and that she hoped combining this knowledge with western science would produce something synergistic.

"Under that umbrella of synergy, we're really looking to bring the young people along with us and provide them with opportunities to recognise and reconcile their culture to revive the culture."

Energised youth

Hospitality worker Taj Collins, 18, of the Goreng Goreng people, said the project had motivated him to finish his apprenticeship.

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"I've always wanted to use bush foods within my cooking and this was a great opportunity to learn and further my studies in the bush food industry," Mr Collins said.

"I'm hoping to develop a small cafe where I can use the bush foods and employ Indigenous people to come work."

Mr Collins said when he was younger he would go walking with his relatives who taught him about bush food, including when and how they could be used.

How hard is it to find bush food?

Melbourne-based Torres Strait Islander executive chef Nornie Bero has been using bush food as the foundation of her restaurant and her approach to cooking, but it wasn't always easy to source the plants she needed.

"It was a bit fickle at the start. You just never knew whether you were going to get the product," Ms Bero said.

"[Warrigal greens] are our own native spinach and why do we not sell them everywhere? We have every other type of spinach, we have English spinach.

"It grows so well and there is so much of it. We could actually be putting it on the shelf but we just don't.

"We're getting [bush food] more commonly now, especially things like samphire and karkalla."

Now Ms Bero works directly with farmers, which she said was the best way to source the ingredients she wanted without adding to the price.

For people who couldn't find the product they were after or wanted to use more native food, Ms Bero said the solution was simple: ask for it.

"Go down and ask for the products because when [local grocers] go to market, the product is there, it's just that it doesn't have a market for it," she said.

"So if you're not asking for it, it won't come to you."

When we will see the products on shelves?

You won't see these particular products and plants at the supermarket just yet.

The project will run for five years and during this time UQ will work alongside each of the four community groups to help them develop and test ideas.

When the products are commercialised, the plan is to have them certified so consumers know the product they are buying is from an Indigenous-run business.

"I think what this project is doing is enabling Indigenous people to own a business and I think consumers look at that when they're buying bush foods or when they're buying native plants," Professor Fitzgerald said.

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