Spices of a Sunburnt Country

Australia’s unique animals are well known worldwide. But its equally unusual native food plants are less well known. Because indigenous Australians didn’t domesticate plants through farming, most food plants remain in their original state – the world’s ultimate heirlooms.

These nutritional treasures helped indigenous people survive the harshest conditions, and can benefit us today as well. Kakadu plum, for example, is believed to have the highest known concentration of Vitamin C than any other fruit.  Here are some interesting ones to try:

Pepperberry

A fruity, piquant alternative to pepper, the dried fruits of the pepper berry have strong antimicrobial activity and antioxidants – three times as much as blueberries. Early settlers used it for digestion and to treat scurvy.

Recipe suggestion: freshly crack onto red meats and game

Wattleseed

From the Acacia plant, ground and toasted wattleseed has chocolate, coffee and hazelnut notes. With good amounts of potassium, calcium, iron and zinc it’s also highly nutritious.

Recipe suggestion: add to Anzac biscuits

Lemon myrtle

With the highest concentration of citral (90-98% vs lemon’s 2-5%) which gives citrus fruits their lemon-favour, lemon myrtle has a highly aromatic flavour and is a wonderful alternative to traditional citrus. The dried leaf is high in antioxidants.

Recipe suggestion: use in a cheesecake in place of regular lemon

Bush tomato

Sweet, dusky, smoky and burnt-caramel tones make dried bush tomato, or kutjera, a wonderful flavouring for barbecue sauce. They contain selenium, which is deficient in many soils and therefore foods.

Recipe suggestion: flavour savoury scones or any tomato-based sauce

Saltbush

Retaining salt in their leaves, saltbush can be sprinkled onto food for a more subtle, lower sodium seasoning. It’s high in protein, vitamins A, C, and D, and minerals such as chromium.

Recipe suggestion: add to bread mix or use in a herb crust for roast lamb

Native basil

Nicknamed the “five spice plant” due to its fragrant mix of basil, mint and sage aromas, native basic is great for Mediterranean cooking. Like other basils it has strong medicinal properties, with one study suggesting it may lower blood sugar levels.

Recipe suggestion: make into a pesto with pinenuts, garlic, parmesan and macadamia oil

Tanami apple

These fruit taste similar to a melon or zucchini, and when dried and ground are a great addition to dukkah. It’s a relative of the bush tomato and contains similar nutrients.

Recipe suggestion: add to a dukkah with macadamia nuts, sesame seeds and cumin

You don’t have to be Les Hiddins to add a bit of native spice to your diet. But it’s best to buy from reputable suppliers rather than go foraging – as out of Australia’s 25,000 plants, only one in five are edible.