Australia’s indigenous food industry is growing

Demand for Australian native ingredients is growing. Here’s what you need to know about this indigenous food trend.

What are indigenous ingredients?

Considering the size of Australia, it’s not surprising that indigenous diets of First Nations people varied from region to region. 

Animal proteins are found in a variety of sources like:

  • Fish
  • Eels
  • Water birds
  • Kangaroo
  • Emu
  • Crocodile
  • Goanna
  • Witchetty grubs
  • Caterpillars

There’s also a wide range of delicious plants in the indigenous diet too, such as:

  • Bush tomatoes
  • Sea celery
  • Bush potatoes
  • Wild limes
  • Salt bush
  • Sea parsley
  • Pepper berry
  • Wattle seeds
  • Sour quandong
  • Rosella flowers
  • Bunya nuts
  • Illawarra plums
  • Warrigal greens
  • Kakadu plums
  • Lemon myrtle
  • Native basil

What’s driving the rise in popularity?

MasterChef has given the trend a real push, raising the profile of indigenous ingredients to Australian consumers.

But demand first started from travellers seeking authentic indigenous cuisine. Many regional tour operators incorporate native food foraging and tasting into their package tours to cater to this demand.

This desire for more cultural experiences is also boosting demand in restaurants too, with many Chefs already using native ingredients on their menu, including Peter Gilmore, Kylie Kwong and Mark Olive to name a few.

What are the current challenges?

When it comes to the native food industry, suppliers and Chefs are challenged to source ethically and sustainably grown produce.

And it’s not surprising, when you think about supplying products that traditionally have been foraged rather than cultivated for mass production.

Central to the ethics debate is ensuring First Nations communities own their place within the native food industry. Projects like Outback Pride Fresh (now BushLolly) set out to develop and support a network of native food production sites within Aboriginal communities. As of the start of 2020, Outback Pride Fresh handpicked 50 tonnes of native leaf varieties a year to supply 800 chefs across Australia.

But pricing can be an issue, with the cost of unique, indigenous produce often out of reach for many Chefs. And COVID isn’t helping either, with native produce prices sky high, and predictions that they’ll continue to rise due to the sheer logistical challenge of sourcing and delivering these goods around the country. Building sustainable supply chains are still a work in progress for an industry in growth.

Ethically too, there is also a real call for Chefs to fully understand and appreciate the cultural story behind the indigenous ingredients they’re using, beyond just nutrition and taste. 

Easy ways to start using native ingredients

Despite the current costs and logistical challenges, indigenous ingredients — both farmed and wild-harvested — are here to stay. With that in mind, there are easy ways to start incorporating ingredients into your menu if you wish to.

Here are some swaps you could try:

  • Lemon myrtle instead of lemon and pepper
  • Sea parsley instead of parsley
  • Bush tomatoes instead of paprika
  • Saltbush instead of salt
  • Wattle seeds instead of sesame seeds
  • Pepper berry instead of black pepper
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