The next great Australian food that you’ve never heard of could be a native plum out of Arnhem Land.
- Green plums grow in parts of the Northern Territory and have been eaten by Aboriginal communities for 53,000 years
- UQ scientists have discovered the bush food contains fibre, minerals and more folate than most commercially available fruits
- Commercialising the fruit could provide business and employment opportunities to Aboriginal people
The green plum, Buchanania obovata, is a small fruit found on trees in arid parts of the Northern Territory.
It has been eaten for more than 53,000 years by many Aboriginal communities.
Now scientists are researching its nutritional potential.
University of Queensland scientists learned about the fruit from locals at Yirrkala, a small community 1,000 kilometres east of Darwin, while studying the better-known Kakadu plum.
Yasmina Sultanbawa is the director of the Training Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods at the university.
“[The locals] said the green plum comes after the Kakadu plum harvests,” Dr Sultanbawa said.
“They always said that it was delicious and the old people ate it and they gave it to their children.
“So we were very curious, and we had the opportunity to do some samples.”
Dr Sultanbawa and her team have been working with the Aboriginal-owned Gulkula nursery to study the nutritional values of the native food, and its commercial opportunities.
A nutritional analysis in a Brisbane lab found out just how special the green plum is.
“There’s a fair amount of protein; [it’s] very high in dietary fibre; the minerals — potassium, phosphorus, magnesium — are very high,” Dr Sultanbawa said.
“What is really interesting is that the folate in the fruit is one of the highest commercially available.
“Even when you compare it to commercially available fruits, green plums would stand out [from] them, and among the native foods, it’s the highest.”
Folate is a B-vitamin necessary for growth and development, and is particularly important for pregnant women.
Commercial opportunities could empower Indigenous communities
Heather Smyth, a sensory scientist and flavour chemist at the Training Centre, investigated the fruit’s taste and found it close to a stewed apple or pear.
“They’re obviously best fresh off the tree,” she said.
Dr Smyth is also looking at the fruit’s potential to be a commercial crop for Indigenous communities.
“Will it be a high-value plum that chefs will use to decorate a dessert with or add to something, or will it need to be processed and used as a puree?” she said.
“If it’s very high-value and if it’s hand-harvested in these communities, we need to be able to give a good return on what it is and develop a good business model that makes sense, so we don’t want to sell them as cheap.
“It might be that actually we use them in a slightly processable way, where it’s an ingredient in a cereal or a muesli or a jam.”
The research on the green plum is part of a larger project seeking to understand the flavours, textures and the food opportunities for native foods and ingredients in Australia.
Dr Sultanbawa said the commercial opportunities around the green plum were yet to be realised, but it was important Indigenous communities were involved and their knowledge protected.
“There’s intellectual property, access and benefit sharing when you do go into value addition,” she said.
“This is empowering the community to be in a position to have those discussions with industry when they come.
“In that sense, we are developing a different kind of business model: an enterprise that is Indigenous-owned and controlled and a business model that fits the communities.”
Dr Sultanbawa says it might be two to three years before the fruit is widely commercially available.
Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm or on iview.
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