Ayers Rock Resort, Northern Territory © Voyages
Australia’s native ingredients and where to try them
Australia’s native ingredients are not only healthy, they also offer a tantalising taste of the country.
By Natasha Dragun
Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have been harnessing the powers of native ingredients for tens of thousands of years, by using Indigenous produce – whether sea creatures, land animals, insects or plants – for both food and medicine. Today “bush tucker”, as it’s known, is increasingly being featured on restaurant menus and cocktail lists across the country. Here are a few standout flavours and where you can try them.
Found in tropical woodlands across northern Australia, this yellow-green fruit is lip-smackingly tart when eaten fresh. That's why it’s often stewed for jams, jellies, sauces and juices, mellowing the flavour while still serving as the richest source of vitamin C of any fruit on the planet. No wonder Aboriginal communities across Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory used it as an immunity builder and overall healing source.
Buttery, creamy, sweet and delicious, macadamia nuts are high in antioxidants and minerals, as well as the good fats you want in your diet. Typically found in rainforests along the north-east coast of Australia, the distinctive round nut was once a delicacy among Aboriginal communities. Now it’s farmed as one of the country’s most popular snacks.
More commonly found on menus in Australia’s north, crocodile meat is a surprisingly healthy meal choice: low in fat, high in protein and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also extremely tasty, with the flavour somewhat reminiscent of chicken, but with nuanced fishy overtones.
Plentiful and high in protein, insects are eaten the world over, and green tree ants in Australia are no exception. Distinguished by their vibrant green abdomen, these endemic creatures are found across Queensland and the Northern Territory, and have been eaten by Indigenous communities for centuries. They’re extremely tasty, delivering a hit of lemon.
How to try it: Adelaide Hills Distillery makes a knockout Green Ant Gin, which you can purchase from the Something Wild stall at Adelaide’s Central Market. Or, enjoy your first taste at The Langham Sydney’s Observatory Lounge, where gin martinis might be infused with ants alongside other native ingredients, including saltbush and lemon myrtle.
Found in tidal flats and mangroves around most of Australia’s coast, mud crab flesh is moist and sweet, plus low in fat and high in vitamins and minerals. Traditionally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people hunt the enormous critters – weighing up to 3.5kg (7.7lbs) – using spears.
An edible shrub with silvery-green leaves, saltbush grows wild across most of the country. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have traditionally eaten the fruit and seeds of certain species as a source of minerals, and use their leaves to help heal wounds. The leaves are still in high-demand today, their salty, earthy flavour a great addition to roasts or as a native alternative to salts when ground up.
Typically found in arid parts of the country, quandongs have long been revered by Aboriginal people for their incredible versatility and healing properties – these fruits are high in immune-boosting antioxidants and vitamin C. The tart flesh is often turned into jams and chutneys, while the nuts are customarily roasted.
This shrub’s versatile leaves deliver a zingy citrus hit to offerings in top-end restaurants, laid-back cafés (look out for lemon myrtle tea), and bakeries alike. It’s also a popular ingredient in many snacks found on supermarket shelves. With antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, lemon myrtle has traditionally been used by Aboriginal communities as a healing salve.
Calling the streams of Western Australia home, marron are the third-largest freshwater crayfish in the world – think of them as a lobster equivalent. Their finely textured meat is sweet and subtle, which means you don’t have to do much preparation before eating. You’ll find it in fishmongers and top restaurants around the world today, and it remains a staple among Aboriginal communities in the country’s southwest.
How to try it: Melbourne’s applauded Attica restaurant includes marron as a near permanent fixture on his degustation menu – it’s regularly prepared with other native ingredients including finger limes and lilly pilly (a native fruit also known as “Australian cherries”).
Lean, high in protein and packed with essential vitamins and minerals, kangaroo meat is sustainably sourced from nature, rather than farmed. This superfood is also plentiful and delicious, making it an important part of the Aboriginal diet – and now the diet of thousands of people around the world, thanks to global meat exports. Its distinct gamey flavour is tuneable by preparation style.
How to try it: Kangaroo is one of many native ingredients that regularly star on the menu at modern Australian restaurant Provenance in Beechworth. Kangaroo meat can also be purchased from most supermarkets and butchers.
A valuable source of food and medicine for Australia’s Aboriginal people for centuries, finger limes grow in a rare rainforest tree around the Queensland–New South Wales border. Ripe fruit comes in a rainbow of colours, from green to pink, and when sliced reveals pearls resembling oversized caviar – pop one in your mouth for a zingy citrus hit that’s high in vitamin C and antioxidants.
Australia boasts hundreds of species of acacia (wattle trees), and most have edible seeds. Aboriginal communities have traditionally eaten the powerful native botanical raw, or ground the seeds into flour for making damper (bread). This remains a popular cooking technique today, with powdered seeds adding gorgeous notes of nut, coffee, spice and chocolate to cakes, biscuits and loaves.