Look at the great culinary nations of the world, those held up across the globe, and in each case you will see people working with the seasons, with their terroir and predominantly with the food that is native to their region. It is culinary culture borne of necessity, not fashion. In Australia, our indigenous ingredients have been largely left behind. A shift in chef mentality is changing that now. Below are a few indigenous ingredients for your kitchen.
The casing of the wattle seed can protect the seed on the ground for up to 20 years, acting as it’s very own airtight container and keeping it for a time of need. This casing can even protect it from fire. In terms of cooking, wattle seed is roasted and then ground to make a flour and used for breads and thickening sauces. Wattle seeds contain more protein than wheat and are a great source of carbohydrates. Their flavour is described as nutty with overtones of coffee or chicory.
The wattle tree also provides structure for another important plant known as Marsdenia or “bush banana”, there are four edible components of this plant, the fruit, flowers, young leaves and sap.
Kutjera or desert raisins:
The kutjera, also known as a bush tomato or desert raisin, is a member of the nightshade family (also including capsicum and potato). Like the wattle, not all the species of wild tomato are edible. However, the reward is in a deep raisin flavour, an almost caramelized sweetness. In the dessert they can survive for years waiting for a suitable season to bear fruit. They have the added advantage of sun-drying on the vine or off the vine for later consumption.
A native to the arid regions of Australia, the majestic quandong tree is hard to miss. While it became known as a native peach, it’s flavour is said to be more a cross between an apricot and rhubarb.
The Flinders Ranges, is home to the desert lime (they can also be found in south western Queensland and western NSW). The sour fruit was traditionally eaten whole and raw (they are a little bigger than a pea), but has many of the characteristics of the ubiquitous European citrus. Australia is home to numerous indigenous lime species, with the rainforest dwelling finger lime and its beautiful little pearls of citrus particularly popular; perfect on top of an oyster or stirred into a gin and tonic.
This plant has found favour among farmers for its hardy nature and ability to thrive on saline rich soils. These qualities have seen it used as a foraging crop for sheep, essentially flavouring the lamb from the inside out. But saltbush can be used for so much more than feeding lamb! Traditionally it was the seeds of the plant that were ground and roasted for damper. It is particularly delicious in a light tempura batter and deep fried.
One of Australia’s most celebrated native foods, a macadamia nut is a hard nut to crack. It is for that reason, and its rich, buttery flavour, that macadamia nuts demand prices twice that of cashews. In spite of macadamias being an Aussie native it is Hawaii that produces 95% of the world’s production.
While mountain pepper is not a direct relative of the traditional pepper berry, it does have a very similar flavour profile. Suited to the sub-alpine forests of Tasmania and Victoria, the dried leaves pack a pungent punch, while the berry itself is even more fierce! The slight citrus note behind the pepper makes this a delightful accompaniment to a freshly shucked oyster.
Select and store:
Most native Australian ingredients are very delicate. Australia’s native ingredients have not been bred to sit on supermarket shelves. They have not been cross-pollinated to withstand hours, if not days, on trucks traversing the country.
Thus most of these ingredients are only available dehydrated, frozen or dried. Check your recipe to ensure you are working with the appropriate form.