Bursting with flavour and rich in nutrients, Australia's native ingredients will delight the health conscious traveller.
By Ute Junker
From the tangy taste of saltbush to the sweet flesh of the freshwater marron, you'll find many native Australian foods on the menus of restaurants around the country. Some of these ingredients - sometimes referred to as "bush tucker" - helped sustain Australia's Aboriginal populations for more than 50,000 years, offering exquisite flavour and bountiful health benefits. Look out for these made-in-Australia foods during your travels.
On the menu in Australia
The macadamia nut, with its distinctive round shape and delicious buttery flavour, is one of Australia's most successful exports. Aboriginal tribes regarded these nuts as a delicacy, but today they are an everyday food, found in snack packs at the supermarket, sprinkled in salads and used in cakes and other desserts. Like all nuts, macadamias are packed with nutrients, including monounsaturated fats and essential vitamins and minerals such as thiamine, manganese and magnesium.
Barramundi has a lot of fans. Anglers enjoy trying to catch this formidable fish, which can grow to well over a metre (3.3 feet), while chefs love barramundi for its firm white flesh and its mild taste, similar to snapper. This versatile fish can be steamed, fried, baked or barbecued, is packed with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A, and has only half the kilojoules (or calories) of salmon.
This Australian spinach, known as warrigal greens, was one of the first native foods to be adopted by Europeans in Australia. As far back as 1770, when James Cook first charted the Australian coastline, his crew ate the leafy greens, which taste a lot like English spinach, and even took seeds back to England. They were onto a good thing: warrigal greens are loaded with healthy antioxidants.
Try it: Brisbane's Corella Woolloongabba have fused this tasty green with an Italian classic, serving a warrigal green risotto, with stracciatella and topped with olive crumb.
This deliciously zesty take on the common lime packs a punch of juice in each of it's caviar-like pearls which literally explode in your mouth. The fruit has been enjoyed for thousands of years by Aboriginal people, both as a delicious treat and a natural antiseptic used for infected wounds. Each Finger Lime contains three times the Vitamin C levels found in a mandarin, while also being rich in folate and potassium. Today they're mostly used by high-end restaurants as a savoury and sweet topper, and in dressings, jams and sauces.
The only delicate thing about Australia's giant mud crabs, which can weigh up to three kilograms (almost seven pounds), is their tender flesh. You will find mud crab on many menus, but nothing beats the experience of wading through Australian mangroves with a local Aboriginal guide, catching a crab yourself, then cooking it over an open fire. Crabbing tours led by Aboriginal guides are available in Port Douglas, just north of Cairns in Queensland, and in Western Australia at Cape Leveque, a two-hour drive north of Broome.
Try it: Find mud crab on the menu at On the Inlet in Port Douglas, just over a one-hour drive from Cairns. Whether it's lunch or dinner, you'll find mud crab served with chips and tossed in a tasty sauce.
For Aboriginals living in harsh deserts, plants like the saltbush were lifesavers. Its salty leaves provided much-needed protein and minerals, and were also used to treat cuts and stings. Today chefs use them in many different ways, wrapping the leaves around meat or fish before baking, or stir-frying them with ginger and garlic. Beef from cattle that has grazed on saltbush has special qualities, such as high levels of vitamin E.
Try it: At the South Melbourne Market, you'll find a stall named Mabu Mabu, which means 'help yourself.' The Torres Strait owned and run business sells dips, chutneys, sauces and curry pastes packed full of native ingredients like saltbush.
Sydney rock oyster
When today's Sydneysiders settle in for a brunch of richly flavoured Sydney rock oysters, they are following a ritual that dates back thousands of years. The shores of Sydney Harbour are dotted with middens (ancient piles of discarded oyster shells), some of which have been carbon dated to about 6000BC.
Try it: One of the best places to eat Sydney's signature ingredient is in Sydney's signature building, the Opera House. Book a seat at the Cured & Cultured bar in chef Peter Gilmore's Bennelong restaurant, spectacularly located inside the Opera House with views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Few ingredients qualify for superfood status as effortlessly as kangaroo. This free-range meat is high in protein, iron and vitamin B, and, unlike most meats, virtually fat free. No wonder it was a staple food for Aboriginal tribes all over Australia. The best reason to eat kangaroo, however, is its delicious gamey taste, reminiscent of venison, which is why it's often found on restaurant menus. Many Australians also cook with kangaroo meat at home. It's readily available in supermarkets.
This rainforest native is one of Australia's most popular bush tucker foods. The aromatic lemon-lime flavour of its leaves is irresistible when brewed into a fragrant pot of tea, but it is also used in all kinds of cooking, with a similar taste to that of the popular Asian ingredient, lemongrass. As such, lemon myrtle blends well with other Asian ingredients, such as chillies, galangal and ginger, and also tastes great in desserts, cakes and pastries. Many Australians keep dried lemon myrtle in their spice rack at home.
Try it: Ochre Restaurant in Cairns uses lemon myrtle in both their savoury and sweet dishes. Try the black mussels with tomato, chilli and lemon myrtle sauce, or the Davidson plum mousse with macadamia pacoca, lemon myrtle and coconut ice cream.
Marron is Australia's equivalent to the lobster: a crustacean with delicately flavoured meat that sells for high prices. It remains a highly prized gourmet secret, with most of the limited stocks of this freshwater crayfish shipped straight to Australia's top restaurants. The sweet flesh of its tail and claws is excellent poached, roasted or fried.