Australian Functional Ingredients – by Vic Cherikoff

Australian food - just waiting to be discovered

Have you noticed that research moves in wave trends? Ages ago it was vitamin C and from Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling to skin care product ranges, this vitamin was promoted as the panacea of longevity and good health.

The publication of my analytical findings of the Kakadu plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana) as the world’s highest fruit source of vitamin C went around the world and has lead to a plethora of products, most notably, Kakadu Complex. This happens to use my Kakadu Blend, which is a super-mix of antioxidant fruits and herbal extracts, naturally preserved with my new Herbal-Active®.

The relatively cheap cost of chemically synthesizing vitamin C or ascorbic acid meant that natural sources of this vitamin, such as from the Kakadu plum were never destined to become raw materials for this compound alone. However, recent studies have shown that the Kakadu plum is also a high quality source of polyphenolic antioxidants with impressive free radical scavenging power. It is these free radicals which are thought to cause cellular damage due to their reactivity although one fascinating aspect of vitamin C biochemistry is also the result of recent work. It appears that vitamin C directly inhibits tumor growth; an effect unrelated to its free radical scavenging ability.

Next came the soy isolates with folates rising to the heap. This established the soy market and was fueled by epidemiological studies in Japan and other soy consuming countries where menopausal symptoms are unknown and components in soy products are now known to play preventative actions in coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and some cancers.

What followed next appears to be due to a period of reduced budgets for scientific research in Australia and a brain drain which saw many good scientists head overseas chasing bigger opportunities in research and remuneration. The move from research academia to more commercial fields has lead to the current boom in nutritional supplements and functional foods.

It is also interesting to see old research have its day with resistant starches sit alongside the modern search for new foods such as the Kakadu plum, Illawarra plum, Davidson plums (none of them plums at all incidentally) and wild fruits from Africa, Asia and South America. Then there are the bioactive herbs and herbal preparations such as Alpine pepper, Forest anise and Lemon myrtle sprinkle. Wattleseed is known for its protective role in avoiding diabetes and obesity and the list goes on.

Despite the efforts of the US FDA and Big Pharma to devalue herbs as sources of functional ingredients in favour of synthetic analogs of extracts, herbs and particularly wild herbs bring food closer to medicine. Need to treat arthritis or avoid senile dementia or diabetes? There are many herbs, spices and other foods which do just this.

The time for Australian food is getting closer, both as pure hedonistic elements prepared by inspired, creative chefs and as specific functional food ingredients in the nutraceutical health food markets.

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Vic Cherikoff