The demand for Australian native foods across the country is by far exceeding supply, according to the industry’s peak body.
Australian Native Food and Botanicals (ANFAB) is trying to encourage new producers in the industry and existing growers to plant more crops.
ANFAB chair Amanda Garner said demand for native foods far outstripped supply.
“We’re a really supply-poor industry at the moment,” she said.
“The market has increased due to all the chefs selling and using [native foods] and all the media [attention], so we’re short of supply on just about all products at the moment.
“Some of the orders for wattleseed are in excess of 100 tonnes and we can’t fulfil [them].
“The same with finger limes; you know, if we could increase another 30 to 40 tonnes of finger limes, I think that right now the market could accommodate it.
“The buyers are there; Asia is our next neighbour and they’re interested in our native food products for culinary [use] and nutraceuticals is huge, and we just can’t meet demand.”
In a bid to help grow the industry, ANFAB has embarked on a national roadshow, Growing the Growers, which has been funded $169,000 by the Federal Government’s Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration pilot program ‘Farming Together’.
The Roadshow was in Ballina last week and is now heading to Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory, Tasmania and Victoria.
Finger lime exports growing
Sheryl Rennie has been growing finger limes on her property at Possum Creek, on the far north coast of New South Wales, for more than 15 years.
The native food producer started exporting her crop to the European Union (EU) 10 years ago.
“Landline did a story on me and the exporters just started coming out of the woodwork, so it all started from there,” she said.
“The export markets have really grown, but it’s hard because of protocols.
“You can go really anywhere in the EU but this year we had a bit of a problem with the floods here so we had our sights set on Australia and now we’re starting to export overseas.”
Ms Rennie said the Asian interest in finger limes was coming from Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
“The fine food market in Asia has just gone nuts, absolutely nuts, and it’s a lot closer to home,” she said.
“It is because of that clean, green image and there’s a lot of rich, quite well off, Asians out there and they like fine food and they like what we’ve got.”
Plenty of room for newcomers
Established native food growers say there is plenty of room for growth in the industry.
Rebecca Barnes from Playing with Fire Native Foods has been in the industry since 2000 and exports lemon myrtle around the world.
“Korea is our biggest market for herbal tea, [with a] little bit into Japan, a little bit into France and we sent stuff to America but that’s for the nutraceutical market, not as food,” she said.
Ms Barnes said that market access was one of the biggest challenges in exporting native foods.
“Our Koreans, they love everything and they want everything but we’re not allowed to send everything yet, so we have to get the government-to-government agreements happening,” she said.
The Ballina-based native food grower and processor said the potential for growth in the industry was limitless.
“The potential is enormous and everybody and anybody, especially foreigners that taste or see the food, they fall in love instantly,” she said.
“There’s still a little bit of racism happening and a little bit of ‘I don’t know if I can do that as a white person’ kind of attitude but the industry is overcoming those barriers.
“We’re being more inclusive of Aboriginal people and I think the future’s sweet.”
Indigenous chef wants focus on more native foods
Of the more than 6,500 native food species in Australia, the industry has overseen the research of 14 ‘priority’ species over the last decade.
In addition to finger lime and lemon myrtle, also on the list are desert lime and anise myrtle, Davidson plum, bush tomato, muntries, mountain pepper, quandong, Kakadu plum, lemon aspen, riberry, and wattleseed.
But Indigenous chef Clayton Donovan, of ABC TV’s Wild Kitchen fame, said more native foods should be added to that list.
“I think we need another seven, just to slowly introduce that into the TAFE systems and back into the high schools and even lower, just for common knowledge of these foods,” he said.
“We’ve got some amazing seafood and to promote it more as a native species would be great and [also] shellfish and seaweeds.
“Anything out of the ocean that hasn’t been looked at yet is pretty exciting but there’s more than enough stuff on land that we haven’t scratched.”
While the demand for native foods is growing, Mr Donovan said more education was needed for Australians to be ready for an explosion of native foods.
“The rest of us in the industry keep on pushing and now we’ve got a lot of different chefs and different people outside the industry that have come into the native food industry,” he said.
“But the grand scheme of things, I think we’re still behind. Probably five to 10 years behind where we should be.
“It’s my favourite passion, Australian native foods, but when it comes to promoting it in its own backyard, it’s a little bit slow, but we’re getting there.”
‘Restaurant of the Year’ using bush tucker
The use of native ingredients in modern Australia cuisine has helped a high-end restaurant take out a top culinary award, demonstrating the rising popularity of unique bush foods.
Orana, owned by celebrity chef Jock Zonfrillo, recently took out the ‘Restaurant of the Year’ in Gourmet Traveller’s Restaurant Guide Awards 2018.
Mr Zonfrillo travels to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities across Australia to source his native ingredients, and said the award was proof Indigenous communities had huge potential as fine food producers.
“I spend a lot of time in Indigenous communities around the country, trying to understanding the traditional ingredients they are still eating, or harvesting,” he said.
“I even use traditional recipes, if they have any, or traditional ways of cooking.”
Mr Zonfrillo brings back new ingredients from his travels and experiments with them in his Adelaide restaurant, learning the various ways to cook and present them.
“Sometimes it is a slow process and sometimes it’s a really fast process but importantly, we try and give recognition to the communities it comes from through our dining experience,” he said.
Challenge in sourcing enough product for commercial use
Orana has recently started using a native sugar produced from insects and deposited on the leaves of certain varieties of eucalypts.
“We use these sugar ‘lerps’ instead of sugar, which is fascinating, but difficult to get in quantity,” Mr Zonfrillo said.
“We also work with mangrove seeds, which could end up being used as a type of antipasto product, similar to artichokes and peppers [and with] Moreton Bay fig shoots, which can easily be jarred, pickled and put in an antipasto plate.”
The challenge is sourcing enough of the unique native foods to cook with commercially, so Mr Zonfrillo started the Orana Foundation to support farming projects in Indigenous communities to help make products scalable.
“Aquaculture, hydroponics or just plain old fashioned farming … there are many ways to do it but either way, our desire is to have the community in charge of food production,” he said.
“We would even like to see those products go into supermarkets and the diets of everyday Australians.”
Last year the South Australian Government awarded the foundation a $1.25 million grant to enable it to research ways to cultivate Indigenous food and establish new markets.
Source: ABC News