• (L-R) Baby Spinach; Warrigal Greens (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Revitalise culture and flavour using unique native Australian foods.
Damien Coulthard, Rebecca Sullivan

21 Oct 2019 - 12:56 PM  UPDATED 21 Oct 2019 - 12:57 PM

Do you remember the first time you cooked? — properly cooked. Experimented, played around with the spice cupboard or chose unfamiliar ingredients.

While many of us have known about native foods for a long time, the impacts of colonisation means we are only now beginning to see an emergence of them in mainstream cooking.

As such, it's fair to say that many Australian native foods have a specific taste profile that’s not as familiar to some palettes — from bitter to astringent, sour to fibrous.

This can be especially difficult for those only beginning to experiment with cooking. We believe that one of the easiest ways to learn to cook with more diverse ingredients, flavours and textures, is to substitute. Below is a list of the easiest ‘sub in and sub out’ ingredients to kick start your native Australian pantry.


Spinach > Warrigal Greens

Our very own native spinach. Possibly the easiest of all to switch in. However, Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides) can be very bitter and because of their high levels of oxalates —which in high quantities can have adverse effects — they are best quickly blanched first.

They are naturally very high in antioxidants, and I’m [Rebecca] not going to lie, I do munch on them raw (just not too many!).

Also known as ‘native spinach’ or ‘Botany Bay Greens’, these are one of the most common of our edible native plants. They're so easy to grow and are pretty much available all year. They are like a weed once they get started and can be grown in a backyard or even on a balcony. Best to have them fresh!


Rosemary > Sea Rosemary

Who doesn’t use rosemary at least once a week? Many households have the shrub thrivingly growing in their yards. But why not grab yourself a pot and plant our native? Interestingly, this is known to be one of the first edible plants used by the Europeans. 

A silvery version of the rosemary you would be used to seeing, sea rosemary (Olearia Axallaris) grows so easily and loves the coastal soils too. It is way tastier than your everyday rosemary — the flavour lingers longer and is more perfumed and slightly sweeter. It has the most delectable aroma too. Use it everywhere you would use ordinary rosemary.

You can also forage for it on nearly all beaches, so keep your eyes open for the 'silver' rosemary, or — as mentioned — grab a seedling from your local nursery and keep it in your backyard to have on hand.


Pine nut > Bunya Pine

Apparently the dinosaurs ate these nuts too!

The gigantic Bunya trees can produce pine cones so big, they have actually killed people when falling on your head. 

The large cones have many kernels inside which need cracking prior to eating. They are best fresh but can also be frozen for longlasting produce.

The Bunya (Araucaria Bidwilli) is high in protein, carbohydrates and good fat. They are similar to a pine nut (and can be used in the same way), you can buy them from many online retailers when in season. Put them in a pesto or a salad.


Plum > Davidson Plum

Found growing in the rainforests in Queensland and Northern NSW, Davidson Plums (Davidsonia Pruriens) are bright purple with an almost magenta-like inside flesh.

The trees are tall and slender and the leaves and fruit themselves have irritant hairs.

The fruit is super tart, but makes wonderful sauces and jams. We love to slice fresh ones very thinly and throw them through salads and they make the absolute best plum pie. They are available in select retailers largely in Northern NSW and Queensland and can be purchased frozen, freeze-dried and powdered from a wider selection of Australian retailers.


Lemongrass > Native Lemongrass

Native Lemongrass (Cymbopogon ambiguus) is an aromatic grass, with a strong citrus aroma, traditionally used by Aboriginal people to treat flu-like symptoms, chest infections and even skin sores.

The stalks are mainly used and as a medical herb, whereby the leaves and roots of the Native Lemongrass can be combined with hot water as a steam inhalation remedy for colds and chest congestion.

However, we just use it in place of Asian lemongrass. We blitz it up in the Thermomix into a spice and use as normal. It makes an absolutely wonderful broth or stuffed into a Sunday roast, fish or chook.

You can buy it dried as a spice from many retailers, but like Sea Rosemary, it's very easy to grow yourself at home!


Apples > Muntries (Emu Apple or Native Cranberry)

These little beauties, native to the South Coast, grow on low growing shrubs.

Known for their high antioxidant value, muntries (Kunzel Pomifera) are said to be around four times higher in nutrients than that of blueberries. With a spicy apple flavour — notes of cinnamon and clove — and a very pretty red and green tinge, young ones will think they have won the fairytale lottery and eat theses nutritional fruit like lollies.

We love them fresh in salads and in an apple crumble, but they can also be used — much like they had been traditionally — pounded, made into a paste and dried into a fruit strap. These are normally available for purchase frozen or dried, but we have seen some more specialist retailers selling them fresh.


Tamarind > Small-leaved Tamarind

This stunning, bright red and very tangy, tasty fruit is a refreshing treat, eaten raw or it can be used creatively in cooking. Like ordinary tamarind, they work well flavouring a fruit paste, chutney and sauce — it makes a truly magical curry paste base. 

With very few trees remaining in the wild of its native Northern NSW, the small-leaved tamarind (Diploglottis campbelli) is an endangered species. Therefore, it is one of our native foods certainly worth using and creating a demand in an attempt to and protect it.

With a limited supply, they’re one of the harder native ingredients to locate; our favourite place to get our hands on these babies is Rainforest Bounty in the Atherton Tablelands who send them frozen. 


Pepper > Pepperberry (Tasmannia lanceolata (syn. Drimys lanceolata)

Mountain Pepper, or Pepperberry (the fruit), grows naturally in the alpine forests and the cool climate of southern New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Full of antioxidants, they are ever so slightly sweeter than standard pepper, with a subtle berry-like flavour. But be warned, it has a super long kick and lingering after taste, so you don't need as much when seasoning.  

We would urge all Australians to replace their peppercorns in their grinder with our own local version.


Coffee > Wattleseed

Consider this a caffeine-free pick me up.

Wattleseed (Acacia victoriae) has a beautiful aroma of roasted coffee grounds, sweet spice, raisin and chocolate.

Acacia seeds have long been very important foods to Indigenous people; they are extremely nutritious, yielding protein levels of 18-25 per cent, and often have high levels of fat too.

Only a handful of Wattleseed is commercially or wild-harvested today for consumption and it must be roasted (and ground) before eating (or the seeds will literally break your teeth!).

We think wattleseed brew should be Australia’s unique offering in our thriving café culture. 


Rebecca Sullivan and Damien Coulthard are the duo behind Warndu, a social enterprise regenerating culture, community, tradition and health using native Australian food. Follow them @Warndu.

Make NITV your home of Indigenous-inspired cooking. Kriol Kitchen and On Country Kitchen airs Wednesdays from 7.30pm on NITV (Ch. 34). Catch-up is available on SBS on Demand.