UNIQUE native produce that are not widely available through the nation’s retailers are set to be the next buzz in the food world.
A consumer study of more than 1700 people has identified that Australians have a sense of pride in native food, are curious about little-known produce varieties, and are largely keen to buy more.
The research – conducted online, in consumers’ homes and at a dedicated sensory testing facility – uncovered a number of specific vegetables consumers favoured, providing an insight into potential opportunities for Australia’s first peoples and growers.
The results showed people in the sample – particularly those aged 18 to 25 – were interested in eating vegetables that were previously unknown to them, especially when they had a high nutritional profile.
Hort Innovation chief executive John Lloyd said there were more than 6000 different native food varieties in Australia, but many consumers had limited exposure to many of them.
“For this reason, in consultation with Aboriginal custodians and native food specialists, we took a deep dive into a selection of native vegetables to see what consumers found most appealing, and the findings were compelling,” Mr Lloyd said.
People were also more receptive to certain types of native vegetables when they were able to compare them to known varieties – such as kulyu, which is similar to the sweet potato.
The research identified kulyu as having a strong appeal as a concept. However, like much of the produce identified, supply required additional development work.
Kulyu is described as being similar to sweetpotato, and best eaten when baked, roasted or steamed. It remains crunchy when cooked, and can also be eaten raw. When charred and caramelised, it can give a sweet nashi pear-like flavour. Kulyu has a similar nutrient content to sweetpotato.
Australian Native Foods and Botanicals chair Amanda Garner said around 40 edible native foods are commercially available in Australia, and that figure is tipped to rise.
“As the extraordinary health benefits and medicinal properties of unique Australian plants are being ‘discovered’ the market demand is sky high, especially from the national and international pharma and nutraceutical companies,” she said. “Demand is far outstripping supply”.
Ms Garner said key to success in growth in the industry is the integration of Indigenous cultural knowledge.
“Strengthening the various bush food industries’ understanding and appreciation of the uniqueness and incredible array of Australian native species grown in our own backyard is also essential,” she said.
Hort Innovation presented the findings of the study at a Native Food Forum in Adelaide on Monday, which was jointly funded with ANFAB as part of the Farm Cooperatives and Collaboration Pilot Program (Farming Together). Assistant Minister for Agriculture Senator Anne Ruston officially launched the event, which was attended by more than 120 people.