Muffins made using lemon myrtle, a bush tucker herb used for tens of thousands of years by Australia's Aboriginal peoples, in Sydney on Apr. 6, 2023. EFE/Rocio Otoya

Australia’s traditional Aboriginal ‘bush tucker’ shines on contemporary menus

By Rocio Otoya

Sydney, Australia, Apr 7 (EFE).- Lemon myrtle, bush tomatoes and local spinach are some of the native foods that have been used by Australia’s indigenous peoples for tens of thousands of years that are now having their time in the sun as essential elements of the country’s contemporary culinary scene.

More than a decade ago, renowned chefs such as the Dane René Redzepi and Scot Jock Zonfrillo, from the now-closed Noma and Orana restaurants, became fascinated with native ingredients and traditional techniques used to identify, select, collect and use food (or “tucker,” in Australian slang) from the bush.

Marie Barbaric, founder of the NGO Koorie Kulcha Experience, which provides food catering services with indigenous products, intercultural training, and employs indigenous Australian workers, in Sydney on Apr. 7, 2023. EFE/Rocio Otoya

“Bush tucker” can now be found on many restaurant menus in Australia, a country where names of Aboriginal chefs such as Clayton Donovan, Mark Olive and the Bourke brothers resonate, and food catering companies with indigenous ingredients have emerged.

“This country is so rich in food, herbs and spices,” said Marie Barbaric, founder of Koorie Kulcha Experience, an NGO that on Thursday hosted a food tasting featuring products such as crocodile, emu and wallaby savories, as well as barramundi fish and lemon myrtle muffins for Foreign Correspondents’ Association members in Sydney.

Native forest products used by Australia’s Aboriginal peoples for tens of thousands of years. EFE/HANDOUT/Royal Botanic Garden Sydney ***EDITORIAL USE ONLY/ONLY AVAILABLE TO ILLUSTRATE THE ACCOMPANYING NEWS (MANDATORY CREDIT)***

Bush tucker is also beginning to shine in the diets of wellness and health enthusiasts, who hail its nutritional and medicinal properties.

For example, “myrtle lemon and lilly pilly (Syzygium australe) were the first bush foods to go crazy (a decade ago)… as people found it helps with collagen production, both as a topical solution and by ingestion,” said Kalkani Choolburra, Aboriginal Programs Coordinator at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

The Australian bush, however, can be a trap for any novice who doesn’t know how to distinguish which plant is edible in a certain season of the year, or worse – which will nourish and which will poison.

Crocodile gyozas, a fusion dish of Asian food and “bush tucker” ingredients, used for tens of thousands of years by the Australia’s Aboriginal peoples, in Sydney on April. 6, 2023. EFE/Rocio Otoya

“There are 300 wattle trees (native acacias) and there are (only) a certain number that you can harvest,” said Barbaric, whose team has been investigating the commercialization of native products for 12 years.

One of the very popular nutritious plants is the spinach Tetragonia tetragonoides, which is rich in vitamin C and is used as a substitute for common spinach.

But there is a catch: if you eat more than 2 kilograms of this plant raw, you could meet “death by diarrhea,” Choolburra warned.

On the other hand, there are other innocuous and nutritious plants with roots that produce food, such as potatoes, branches that have juices similar to coconut water and that among other virtues contain seeds that can be dried and ground to make a bread that Aborigines cook on their outdoor fires.

An undated handout photo from Royal Botanic Garden Sydney shows sweets made from native Australian indigenous ingredients. EFE/HANDOUT/Royal Botanic Garden Sydney ***EDITORIAL USE ONLY/ONLY AVAILABLE TO ILLUSTRATE THE ACCOMPANYING NEWS (MANDATORY CREDIT)***

Australia’s first peoples have been baking bread for about 30,000 years, followed by Egyptians for 17,000 years, Choolburra said.

With a potential expansion of bush tucker on the Australian and international markets, indigenous entrepreneurs hope to generate work in their communities through sustainable jobs and where they are treated with respect and as equals, Barbaric stressed.

And while food connects people and immigrant communities, such as Australia’s Italian diaspora, the road to respect for Aboriginal peoples, a minority that has historically been discriminated against in the country, is longer due to “to the color of the skin,” Choolburra said. EFE