Researchers have discovered what Indigenous Australians have known for millennia, that a group of bush foods could be a nutritious alternative to salt.
University of Queensland research has identified the salt-tolerant plants known as halophytes, which are used by First Nations Australians as food, fodder and medicine, as a business opportunity.
For the past three years Sukirtha Srivarathan, from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, used state-of-the-art technology to study the nutritional value of the native plants samphire, saltbush, seablite and sea purslane.
“I explored them as a functional ingredient, so we examined the nutritional composition and the bioactivities of all these halophytes,” she told AAP.
“They’ve been used for more than 65,000 years as food, especially during drought, because they grow all year round.”
Working with the Nyul Nyul people in the Kimberley region, the researchers examined how the plants could be used in food production.
“If somebody wants to use them as fresh leaves, they can use them as a garnish or salad,” Ms Srivarathan said.
She found all the plants were a good source of protein, and most were also a good source of fibre, minerals and vitamins.
Ms Srivarathan said the most promising for nutritional benefit was samphire.
The research was a collaboration with the West Australian First Nation community of Twin Lakes and was led by Uncle Bruno Dann and Marion Manson.
Uncle Bruno said halophytes had long been a staple food for Nyul Nyul people in the Kimberley region, collected seasonally by his mimies (grandmothers) and gullords (grandfathers).
“We used to move from place to place every two or three months to collect different foods,” he said.
“Halophytes were a great mai (bush food) when we were by the sea, then we would move inland and back again, living seasonally, in the cycles of life and the seasons, going with the land.”
Senior researcher Dr Michael Netzel said the plants were compared to spinach and found to be a sustainable food source and a good salt alternative.
Dr Netzel said the research identified potential for the products to be commercialised.
“The idea behind it is advocating it as a more mainstream food and including it in a standard Australian diet,” he said.
“For example, instead of table salt you can use halophytes as a freeze-dried powder condiment.
“Halophytes have a lot of bioactive compounds, so it’s a more sustainable and healthy choice to eat as a salad or side dish.”
The research was published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.
(Australian Associated Press)