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Australia It's known to be a superfood, but what exactly are the health benefits of the Kakadu plum?

01:10  22 july  2021
01:10  22 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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While we're fond of looking to the Amazon for our acai berry smoothies and Peru for our maca powder protein balls, many forget we have got our very own potent superfood back home; the Kakadu plum.

The tiny green plum boasts more than 100 times the vitamin C of an orange, two-and-a-half times an acai berry, and almost five times the antioxidant properties of blueberries.

These impressive statistics come from research underway for more than a decade, mainly through the University of Queensland, verifying the plum's powerful properties and working to ensure it is protected as an Australian native food.

Yasmina Sultanbawa from the university's Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences said the plum had been scientifically shown to pack a punch.

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"Kakadu plum is a rich source of antioxidants and has ellagic acid and vitamin C chemical components that contribute to this antioxidant activity," Professor Sultanbawa said.

"Ellagic acid and vitamin C also have health benefits."

The fruit also contains vitamin E, lutein, which is known to play an important role in eye health.

Working with scientists at a number of universities and research organisations is traditional owner David Hewitt who runs a business harvesting the fruit on his country at Daly River, south of Darwin.

He said Indigenous people had used Kakadu plum as a bush medicine for millennia.

"Our grandparents and mothers and fathers taught us to eat this kind of tucker, and plenty other bush medicine, since we were kids," Mr Hewitt said.

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"It can cure [people] of a lot of sicknesses.

"You can use a bark for sores and wounds, even scrape the bark off, and the leaf, and boil it."

He said sucking on a few plums was a traditional remedy for a cold or flu.

"A plum a day will keep the doctor away, that's what I say," Mr Hewitt said.

The plum's public profile

Despite its superfood status, many aren't familiar with the Kakadu plum.

Mr Hewitt, who has the Northern Territory's first and only commercial harvesting licence, wants to work with western researchers to corroborate and recognise his people's traditional knowledge about the fruit.

"The world doesn't know about Kakadu plum yet, so there's still a lot of opportunity out there," he said.

"This is bush medicine. It's the highest bush medicine you can get naturally."

An alliance of businesses promoting Australian bush food published findings in 2019 that just 1 per cent of the industry's produce and dollar value was generated by Indigenous people.

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According to Mr Hewitt, that leaves "a 99-per-cent gap to fill".

"If we can get these out there and promote this more … the whole world can see that we have the highest vitamin C in the world," he said.

"We're so proud of that."

Race to market

Food scientist Cate Cahill started a native food business with her husband Peter in Darwin.

They freeze-dry the plums Mr Hewitt's community harvests and turn them into a longer-lasting and more transportable powder.

"Native foods, in general, are going through a bit of a boom," Ms Cahill said.

"There's a bit of bit more awareness of it now, but it's really been slow to get people to be aware of it."

She said she had already come across Kakadu plum sold online from overseas.

"We need to get moving on this industry and get it going before overseas markets just corner it," Ms Cahill said.

"The tourist industry stopping from COVID hasn't helped because a lot of people find out about it when they go out to Kakadu National Park.

"It's just one of those things. We've got to get the name out there a bit more and raise people's awareness about it."

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Turning back the clock

The plum is also known to have preservative qualities — in more ways than one.

Its antioxidant content has seen it used as an anti-ageing remedy, put to use by both Aboriginal communities and commercial beauty brands.

Mr Hewitt said one of the uses his people had found for the plum was traditional skincare.

"For the beauty products; it actually makes your skin younger," he said.

"They're used for skin products, skin creams, shampoos, soaps."

The same properties have also been scientifically shown to preserve food.

It has been put to good use by Darwin-based businesswoman Karen Sheldon who has run a catering company for more than 50 years.

She is a passionate advocate for using bush foods.

"We started doing more of the research, looking at different ways of using the plum, and we found that it was an amazing preservative for food," she said.

"We found that instead of all the chemicals that other people use in their products as preservatives, we could use the natural Kakadu plum to give us the commercial advantage."

Mrs Sheldon's team uses freeze-dried Kakadu plum powder in many of the meals they make to send to remote communities.

"It actually helps to extend the shelf life out to 12 months, at least," said Sarah Hickey, director at Karen Sheldon Catering.

"It's amazing how little you need for the benefits that it has."

Watch the ABCTV premiere of Movin' To The Country at 7.30pm Friday, or stream on iview.

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