ISSR researcher involved in developing sustainable livelihoods

28 Nov 2019

A team of researchers, including ISSR’s Professor Janeen Baxter, are determined to change the Australian menu and move beyond the cliché meat pies and lamingtons to see distinctive Australian cuisine and food products on our tables and in our restaurants.

Led by Associate Professor Yasmina Sultanbawa from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation at The University of Queensland, the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods aims to convert traditional knowledge into branded products and identify the scientific bases for a uniquely Australian food provenance.

“We are working with Indigenous communities across Australia, food industry entrepreneurs and a research team spanning law, engineering, food science and the social sciences to create a new agri-food sector based on uniquely Australian foods,” Dr Sultanbawa said.

“It’s about celebrating Australia’s own unique food heritage and creating a truly Australian food culture. While modern Australian cuisine is culturally very diverse, there is a great interest among Australians to celebrate their own unique food heritage, and that includes understanding the health benefits of Indigenous bush foods and telling the stories of where our food comes from.”

The training centre is made up of chief investigators, international collaborators, industry partners as well as technical and postdoctoral staff and students. The centre is also supported by a number of native foods businesses (including an Indigenous Enterprise Group) who are closely linked to centre projects and outcomes.

ISSR’s Professor Baxter, one of the chief investigators, will be involved in a project on Sustainable Livelihoods, which will assess and identify how best to support Indigenous participation in all aspects of the uniquely Australian food development and marketing process in an appropriate manner. The aim is to realise sustainable business opportunities that respect Indigenous communities’ knowledge, experience, values and norms.

Project participant, Traditional Owner, Custodian of Winamwarl and Chairperson of Manowan Aboriginal Corporation Mr Bruno Dann said Indigenous Australians had been using these foods for medicine and food for thousands of years. “There’s so much bush tucker out there, you can either hold it to yourself or give it and share it,” Mr Dann said.

Australian Research Council (ARC) Chief Executive Officer Professor Sue Thomas said the Training Centre was receiving $3.58 million in funding through the ARC’s Industrial Transformation Research Program. Professor Thomas said there was a hunger both in Australia and overseas for exotic, healthy food experiences.

“This training centre represents the largest research effort ever undertaken on behalf of the Australian native foods sector,” Professor Thomas said. “It will train a cohort of future industry leaders to help develop sustainable and culturally appropriate models for the harvest of native bush food product, encompassing issues such as community benefit sharing, intellectual property protection and developing a uniquely Australian brand.”

Dr Sultanbawa pioneered the use of Kakadu plum powder as a powerful, natural antimicrobial to extend the shelf life of prawns and ready-made frozen foods. “We are now looking at the properties of a range of native fruits, seeds and nuts to find the next Kakadu plum or lemon myrtle, but we are also looking at the unique signatures of foods grown in Australia.”

Dr Sultanbawa said the food industry could take inspiration from Australia’s wine industry in identifying a uniquely Australian flavour as a way of branding its product in global markets. “This project does not focus on wine, but like the wine industry, we are also looking at distinctively Australian version of foods that may not be unique or indigenous to Australia but have a distinct flavour or provenance,” she said. “We want to identify any scientific evidence that may connect any unique food properties with how and where foods are grown.”

More information: Uniquely Australian Foods website  | photos | video