As a nation, we’ve enthusiastically embraced flavours from all over the globe – cumin and coriander from India, ginger and kaffir lime from Thailand, cinnamon from the Middle East, oregano and sage from Greece and Italy – but what about the flavours that define the very land we live on? River mint, wattleseed, cinnamon myrtle, bush tomato, warrigal greens… In contrast to flavours and ingredients from abroad, Native Australian foods are rarely seen in shopping baskets and on restaurant menus.

In an effort to challenge our taste buds and our food system, on Sunday June 23rd we’re presenting “Twisted Tucker”, a Sunday roast lunch and more showcasing all the best our native cuisine has to offer. The event is a highlight event of Melbourne Food and Wine’s The Roast Collection and will be held at CERES Environment Park in East Brunswick.

Shaun Byrne, co-creator of Maidenii Vermouth, whose locally-made, native botanical drinks will be a feature of the Twisted Tucker lunch, says “Melbournians love unique and lively flavours, but generally people find natives foreign. It’s a conundrum”.

Be conundrufied (so we made that up!) no more! Twisted Tucker is set to equip you with all you need to know about our native cuisine. The day will begin with a hands-on native garden tour and talk, so that guests can understand how to grow native edibles themselves. Jude Mayall, founder of Outback Chef and Director of the Australian Native Food Industry will be holding a bush food cooking demonstration on the day. Jude thinks there is much more to welcoming native flavours than just the taste benefits, “In my view, once people open their eyes to bush foods they are more likely to be open to respecting and supporting indigenous culture.”

Jude was raised on the land and has been working with Aboriginal communities and with native foods for many years. We asked her to give us a run-down of why native foods have gone under the radar so far and why we should start taking notice:

Why should we incorporate bushfood in our diets?

Bushfoods are not only good for us – there has been a lot of research into the health aspects of bushfood by RIRDC (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation) – but it is also Australia’s native food.  It makes sense to eat what is grown locally and grows naturally in this country.

Why do you think we’ve not embraced bushfood and do you think this is changing?

A lot of the early settlers considered bushfood to be inferior to what they already knew and thought it contained no nutritional value at all.  We now know this is wrong. Some of the explorers, the smart ones that is, ate bushfood and survived in a very harsh climate. They learned from the aboriginal people what to eat and when to eat it.

It has taken a long time to get bushfood accepted, there is still many who consider bushfood “poor man’s food”, but people’s attitudes are now changing and most people are now extremely excited about our native food.

Are native bushfoods more nutritious than the food we’ve introduced or cultivated?

RIRDC has done some extensive research on 12 species of native food.  The research presented some amazing results, available on the RIRDC website in the report Health Benefits of Australian Native Food.  Bushfood is extremely nutritious. For instance, the quandong fruit, Australia’s native peach, has twice as much vitamin C as an orange. Wattleseed is extremely high in fibre and protein. Many bush foods have higher antioxidant levels than our standard introduced crops.

What methods are used to harvest bushfoods around Australia?

Most bushfood is still native gathered from the wild, but there is increasing commercial interest and some, such as lemon myrtle, are now commercially grown.

Are sustainable practices followed?

Generally yes. Bushfood grows naturally in this country and so doesn’t need all the “looking after” that introduced species do.  It’s able to survive through the tough variables of Australian climate.

What spices/ingredients would you recommend those of us who are new to the world of bushfood start with?

The most popular and easiest to integrate into every day cooking would be lemon myrtle and the mountain pepperleaf and berries. Ground and roasted wattleseed are also really exciting to use, as well as bush tomato.

To learn more about Australian native edibles, including how to cook with them and grow them for yourself, check out our latest event Twisted Tucker. We hope to see you there!

Do you use native ingredients in your cooking? Got any faves?