Tree of shelf-life

Bush tucker’s time to shine

yasminaDr Yasmina Sultanbawa at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, a UQ institute jointly supported by the Queensland Government, is one such scientist. Her research has provided the scientific grounding for an emerging industry that has brought together the funding, the science, the buyers and the Indigenous community.

This particular industry rests squarely on the Kakadu plum – a small green fruit about the size of an olive – which contains antimicrobial properties powerful enough to extend the storage life of food, particularly in one of Australia’s favourite seafoods – the prawn.

A fresh approach across industries

In 2010, with funding from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Dr Sultanbawa set out with the goal of finding a way to commercialise native plants in a way that engaged Indigenous communities.

At the same time, the Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Centre and Aquaculture Prawn Farmers Association were looking for a way to extend the shelf-life of cooked chilled prawns, and to improve the colour and retain the fresh prawn flavour.

Dr Sultanbawa, in collaboration with scientists from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), screened a range of promising native plants for antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, and found that the Kakadu plum showed the greatest promise against spoilage microorganisms, thanks to high levels of ellagic acid.

DAF Senior Chemist Dr David Williams says the Kakadu plum has great potential in numerous sectors.

“It has a unique phytochemical profile that allows many and varied applications in the food ingredients, cosmetic and nutraceutical industries,” he says.

The team then backed up these findings with lab, pilot plant and farm trials, and delivered a major breakthrough for Queensland’s largest aquaculture sector, which contributes about $80 million to the economy annually.

The Kakadu plum solution is now used by 15 per cent of the Queensland aquaculture industry, extending the shelf-life to 14 days.

Looking to the future

plum-testingBecause of the massive potential for mainstream agriculture and cross-industry applications, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation has extended funding for another two years for Kakadu plum research.

The harvesting and processing model has now also been adopted by the Mamabulanjin Aboriginal Corporation in Broome, the Minlingimbi Crocodile Islands Rangers from East Arnhem Land, and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation from the top end of Australia’s Northern Territory.

Dr Sultanbawa says commercial production of ready-to-eat meals opens new markets and encourages the Indigenous communities to expand on the wild harvesting.

“We hope to engage more Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory through regional hubs and have other native foods added to the value chain.

“Australian native plant foods are currently under-valued and thus present an enormous opportunity,” she says.

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