Building a native food industry in Australia

The University of Adelaide and The Orana Foundation, founded by chef Jock Zonfrillo, have announced a major new research partnership to support the development of an Australian native food industry.

Waite research will play a key role in partnership projects centred on food flavours and plant production assessments.

Ingredients that have a high nutritional profile and great taste and flavour will be assessed as food potential. Chefs from The Orana Foundation will work with the University of Adelaide’s FOODplus Research Centre here at Waite to determine the optimal preparation and cooking requirements for these native plant species, which will then be assessed for flavour, texture and visual appeal.

”Aboriginal people use many complex practices that effectively eliminate anti-nutritional and unpalatable compounds that may occur in native foods at harvest,” said Dr John Carragher, FOODplus Commercial Development Manager.

“Understanding the mechanisms involved in these traditional processes will allow communities to have more predictable control of product safety and quality when making products for commercial sale.”

Optimal cultivation conditions for high potential food plants will be assessed for commercial horticulture. Growth trials will be carried out simulating arid or semi-arid environments in dry undercover facilities.

“Utilising the facilities and know how at the Waite, we will be able to start understanding how selected plants respond to certain growing conditions,” said Dr Kate Delaporte, Acting Curator of the Waite Arboretum. “We can then determine how we might use that understanding to enhance productivity and quality, key components of any commercial food production system, in a truly sustainable way, that connects to indigenous communities and Country.”

The partnership will deliver a key pillar of The Orana Foundation’s aims to foster the research and cultivation of native Australian ingredients for the benefit of remote Indigenous communities.

“Jock Zonfrillo and his Orana restaurant in Adelaide, have set an innovative path with his use of native ingredients and, through The Orana Foundation, Jock is seeking to preserve and evolve Australian food culture into sustainable industry that makes the most of Indigenous traditional knowledge and benefits Indigenous communities,” says Professor Andy Lowe, Director, Food Innovation at the University of Adelaide.

“The University of Adelaide has extensive research capability in food-related areas and we look forward to working with The Orana Foundation to understand more about the food ingredients that exist, their nutritional profile, their potential use in foods, and how they can best be cultivated and produced for commercial use.”

The research partnership is funded as part of a $1.25 million South Australian Government grant to The Orana Foundation.

“I’m so excited to see this project come to life,” says Jock Zonfrillo. “It’s been a long-term dream of mine to expand the work of Orana restaurant into a Foundation that brings recognition to Australian native wild ingredients, and the traditional food culture practice of the first Australian communities.

In addition to the food flavours assessment and plant production assessment projects, the research partnership will also comprise:

  • Building a native food database in collaboration with South Australian Museum and Botanic Gardens of South Australia). The collation of a new comprehensive database of existing and new knowledge of native plants used by Indigenous communities, drawing on anthropological and botanical sources, with culturally significant practice shared with Jock Zonfrillo in working with remote Indigenous communities.
  • Conduct a food qualities assessment. The Australian Bioactive Compounds Centre (a joint centre between the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia) will assess the nutritional profile and potential for bioactive compounds of Aboriginal food plants, in particular looking at their sugar, protein, vitamin, anti-oxidant and fibre content and glycaemic index.
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