But what you might not know is that Australia is home to a wide variety of superfoods too – perhaps not as widely known as their international counterparts, but no less healthy. And while many are yet to enter our greater consciousness, they have been harvested or cultivated for centuries by Aborigines for their medicinal and health-giving properties, which is why they are now starting to pop up in some of our more savvy eateries.
Dietitian and Australian Superfood Company founder Hayley Blienden sings praises of Australia’s foraged superfoods. "Our ancestors discovered and cultivated their native roots, berries, seeds and leaves to bolster longevity, treat ailments and provide critical nutrients when sustenance was sparse,” Hayley says. “Think of now-popular superfoods such as acai from South America, ginseng from China, and chia seeds from Mexico, which feature in popular café menus or are consumed in households daily. But perhaps lesser known is the bounty of native Australian superfoods, which thrive in one of the Earth’s most sun-scorched landscapes.”
Hayley says our own superfoods can be used in “endless” ways – in sweet or savoury dishes or even cocktails. So let’s have a look at some of the superfoods indigenous to our own super continent:
Finger lime has been an important source of food for Aboriginal people for thousands of years. While only a small fruit, the zesty finger lime is rich in folate, potassium and vitamin E and contains three times the vitamin C found in mandarins.
Riberry was one of the first fruits consumed as jams, jellies and cordials by the early colonists. The riberry has three times the folate found in a blueberry, is rich in manganese, is packed with minerals and possesses antidiabetic properties and the capacity to reduce obesity.
Quandong is found throughout southern Australia. High in vitamin C, antioxidants and protein, it has a sweet, beautifully textured flesh that can be eaten straight or dried and stored for later use. It has a sweet taste with a slightly sour and salty aftertaste.
Kakadu plum is a nutrient-rich, antioxidant powerhouse. High in folate, iron and vitamin E and vastly more antioxidants than the blueberry, the magnificent Kakadu plum has, according to Hayley, the highest recorded levels of vitamin C in the world - up to 100 times higher than an orange. This tart little berry is best enjoyed in small portions. “We love it with homemade muffins or adding a pinch to smoothies.”
Davidson plum is a rich source of calcium – “perfect for our vegan friends”, says Hayley – as well as vitamin E and zinc. The dark purple fruit has a blood-red flesh and a soft, juicy pulp and contains properties thought to have antidiabetic effects and a capacity to reduce hypertension and obesity. It’s a great addition to homemade jams, desserts and sauces.
As well as these fruits, there are many herbs and seeds that qualify as Aussie superfoods too.
Aniseed myrtle, with its strong aniseed and liquorice flavour, makes a wonderful addition to teas, drinks and desserts. Aniseed myrtle is high in anethole, a compound used to treat conditions such as acid reflux, intestinal cramps, colic, flatulence and anorexia.
Mountain pepper leaf is a “surprise gem of the bush” that can be used in all savoury dishes in place of black pepper or to give that extra bite. “Historically, it was used by Indigenous Australians to enhance flavours and to treat oral infections like sore gums and toothaches,” says Hayley. Today, it’s prized for its flavour as well its health benefits – antioxidants, vitamin E, lutein, zinc, magnesium and calcium.
Cinnamon myrtle can be used to lend a warm and spicy flavour to desserts and savoury dishes, curries, stews, Middle Eastern dishes and even good old spag bol. “Cinnamon myrtle is commonly used for medicinal purposes to treat indigestion, heartburn and colic.” It can be added to tea for a soothing effect.
Lemon myrtle has significant antioxidant and mineral properties and is high in vitamin C and antimicrobial oil, hence its use by Aborigines as an antiseptic. Hayley says it is the world’s strongest and purest source of natural citral – the oil that gives lemon its characteristic flavour. “Lemon myrtle is undoubtedly one of the most popular Australian native herbs, with its fresh aroma of citrus, delicate menthol touches and a strong lemon flavour, which is sweet and refreshing.”
Wattleseed is the unsung hero of native Australian foods. High in protein, fibre, potassium, calcium, iron and zinc, it also has a low glycaemic index, which means it releases its sugars slowly and can be used by people with diabetes to help maintain blood sugar levels. Dried, roasted and crushed, wattleseed can be used in baking, sauces, scones and scrambled eggs.
Strawberry gum is the original chewing gum. Aborigines used to chew on the leaves for their sweet flavour and burned the leaves to release their health-giving oils, which relieved sickly stomachs. You can use ground strawberry gum in pavlovas, cakes, muffins, frozen yogurt, ice cream and teas.