A tiny green plum that’s been eaten by Indigenous communities across the top end of Australia for thousands of years could end up being on a pregnant woman’s ‘must-have’ food list.
University of Queensland (UQ) researchers are currently working with Aboriginal communities in East Arnhem Land and Delye Outstation in the Northern Territory to investigate the nutritional properties of the native green plum.
Selina Fyfe, PhD Candidate at UQ’s Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences, tells SBS that the study has already revealed that the green plum could contain one of the highest known folate levels of any fruit on the commercial market.
“It’s only early days but we believe the green plum has levels of folate that are a lot higher than other fruits,” says Fyfe.
Folate is a B-group vitamin that’s important in preventing various foetal birth defects. Pregnant women are typically recommended to increase their intake during pregnancy. But up until now, eating lots of grains and leafy green vegetables or taking a folate supplement have typically been the best ways to go. So the research findings not only unveil the potential of a mostly unknown native fruit but also highlight more food options for pregnant women.
“That’s been really exciting as the people in these communities have been eating the green plum for many years and it’s already an accepted fruit."
This small plum packs a big health punch
Preliminary research findings also revealed the green plum packs a huge health punch. The seed is rich in dietary fibre, iron and vitamin B9. Its flesh is high in protein, dietary fibre, potassium and is a good source of magnesium, calcium and phosphorous.
A 2018 study of the green plum, led by Fyfe, showed that the flesh had antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. A separate study, also led by Fyfe, demonstrated that the flesh is rich in vitamin C.
“We have reported [preliminary] research results back to the Indigenous communities we are working with, explaining that the fruit is rich in folate and has other health benefits.
“That’s been really exciting as the people in these communities have been eating the green plum for many years and it’s already an accepted fruit. So it has great potential to boost the health of the community.”
The powerful plum, which is a relative of the mango, is also quite tasty. According to Fyfe, the native ingredient boasts a sweet flavour dotted with a tart taste.
“When you bite into the small fruit, the skin pops in your mouth and the flesh pours out like smooth velvet. It is a very tasty food that you just want to keep eating.”
A sweet, tiny 'wild mango'
Nicknamed the ‘wild mango’, the green plum has been traditionally used as a sweet food in Indigenous communities where it is abundant.
Aunty Dale Chapman, Adjunct Senior Fellow in the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences at UQ, tells SBS she was introduced to the green plum by women from Arnhem Land some time ago.
“The fruit has always been around and communities eat it when it’s in season,” says Chapman, an Indigenous woman born in Dirranbandi in south-west Queensland on Yuwaalaraay and Kooma tribal lands.
“They would pick the fruit straight from the tree, eat it, spit the seed out and then that seed would propagate. Because it is small and there’s a plentiful supply at different times of the year, that’s just what everyone did.”
“Eating food like the green plum is also something that connects you back to your land, back to your country, back to your dreaming."
Chapman, a chef and native foods expert, says Indigenous peoples may not have specifically known the fruit was high in folate but “they would have known that pregnant women did well on it”.
“It's imperative that all women are able to eat fruit like this – one that’s high in folate – because it is a natural source of vitamins, not a manufactured supplement.
“Eating food like the green plum is also something that connects you back to your land, back to your country, back to your dreaming. That’s really important for the Aboriginal women of these communities.”
Earlier this year, the Aboriginal-owned Gulkula nursery in Gove, East Arnhem Land, tried to harvest the green plum. Working together with the UQ researchers, the team successfully propagated the wild fruit.
“There are so many native plants and foods out there,” Chapman says. “We haven’t even really scratched the surface in uncovering all of them. But I definitely think that identifying new native plants, fruits and seeds will benefit Aboriginal communities.
“If they are empowered to grow and commercialise native crops, it can only help them and benefit the wider Australian community.”
National NAIDOC Week (8 – 15 Nov 2020) celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Join SBS and NITV for a full slate of NAIDOC Week content. For more information about NAIDOC Week or this year’s theme, head to the official NAIDOC Week website. #NAIDOC2020 #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe