Australian Functional Ingredients – by Vic Cherikoff

Flavour Frontier

About Cherikoff Australian Ingredients – Part 2: About Cherikoff Flavours

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The Flavours of Australia

Cuisine is a moving parade. Trends change. New ingredients or new ways of using old ones bring variety and interest. Styles come and go from nouvelle cuisine (too much of nothing on the plate) to simple and fresh (ideal for the lazy chef) or vibrant and arty (for the more creative). Whatever the cuisine angle, Australian Functional Ingredients are at the leading edge. There were an estimated 2500 foods that the First Australians utilized across the country. If you are Australian looking to embrace our authentic flavours; or a local entertaining visitors to Australia; or maybe you are a visitor to Australia (real or virtual); or an Internet foodie interested in flavours of the future; please take the time to explore the world’s newest spices, herbs, fruits, seeds, nuts and the many other Australian foods of our Great South Land. Sure, the Aborigines have used these ingredients for millennia but non-Aboriginal Australia is only just discovering the flavours of the next flavour frontier.

Please remember that our products are no longer called bushfood or bush tucker. They are simply authentic Australian ingredients and are still gracing the tables of celebrities, royalty and the upper echelon of society, just as they have done for the last 30 years. And not to neglect us lower mortals, we have continued to introduce our wild flavours to pubs and clubs, restaurants, cafes and eateries at all levels of food service. Stay tuned to our News section for updates on this area of our industry development as we have some really big projects on the go at the moment.

So what are these wild flavours?

These ingredients were once only eaten by Australia’s indigenous peoples (600 discreet clans, in fact) who gained their sustenance from a wide variety of plants and plant products and game meats. Our rainforests provided tree nuts of which the macadamia nut is now the best known and fully commercialized species. In fact, nuts were traditionally a more important protein source than meats for rainforest people even though the daily focus for the men at least, was probably on the results of a hunt.In our woodlands, local Aborigines used seeds from trees and tuberous plants as staple foods and flavoured meats and sea or river foods with herbs and even spices. They effectively managed the ecology to maintain the various systems in their most productive stages of growth in terms of biodiversity and food species. This was the real ‘fresh food used simply’ concept of Australian cuisine. But make no mistake, Aborigines had their own cuisine too. Pairings of meats and fruits or dried wild tomatoes stored for celebratory occasions and used almost as the equivalent of sauce or ketchup on red meat. Meats cooked wrapped in paperbark or smoked with particular timbers for the taste.

Outback in our deserts, the survival got tricky and in some places the density of the population was down around 1 person per 100 square miles (160km). While this average probably held in bad years, the good times allowed their rich culture to grow with the more than adequate food supply of extremely high quality ingredients.

Across the country, protein sources were complemented and flavoured with herb, spices and fruits and we present many as blends or preserves (confits) such as lemon myrtle sprinkle, forest anise, wild thyme, mintbush and peppermint. Spices include Alpine pepper, pepperberries and yakajirri (a pungent seasoning based on bush tomatoes); and fruits such as wild limes, riberries and lemon aspen, to mention only a few of the three dozen or so species now available in various forms.

Some products have evolved from their traditional uses, for example, the seeds from species of Acacia were once parched with hot coals to make them brittle so that they could be milled into a coarse flour and then baked into seed cakes. However, during a nutritional study of Acacia seeds, an accident resulted in the development of a brand new flavour. In my home kitchen in September of 1984, I was preparing some seeds by toasting them to the traditional brittle stage before taking them for analysis of their nutritional contents. Inadvertently over-roasting the seeds, resulted in a totally new coffee substitute.

In this way, Wattleseed was born as a new product and its coffee, chocolate and hazelnut-like notes are perfect in desserts like ice cream or pavlova.

The fruits, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and food adjuncts (like the paperbark which is used as a food wrap and flavouring) are all different to conventional, more familiar ingredients in their taste and appearance and a few new ways of cooking are part of this exciting world of Australian flavours. We have a comprehensive product glossary which is the key to understanding how best to use these amazing new flavours. Either browse it on-line or download a copy and print it out. Give a copy to your colleagues and particularly for apprentices.

To order some of the products for your own home cooking go to our shopping page. We offer a range of seasonings which we predict, will soon be as common in kitchen pantries as salt and pepper, joining chilli, ginger, garlic and several other ‘new’ flavourings.

Nutritionally, wild foods are also distinctive.

The Kakadu plum is found in Australia’s tropical north and is the world’s highest fruit source of vitamin C which I proved analytically at the University of Sydney where I began my professional interest in wild foods. The vitamin C discovery was published in The Lancet in 1983 and was even reported on the front page of the Wall Street Journal shortly afterwards.There were other finds too. Wattle seeds and the product we call Wattleseed are high in proteins, unsaturated fats and complex carbohydrates. This latter nutrient group appears to offer a protective role against diabetes and other diseases of civilization.

Many foods of plant origin contain antioxidants which inhibit the action of reactive free-radicals (chemicals which can damage DNA and cause cancers, tumors and cell mutations). This is an important area of nutritional research with findings in numerous laboratories and post-graduate studies (many that I have supervised and guided). Recently, the Government has funded work at the CSIRO resulting in two definitive publications showcasing Australian wild foods as amongst the most nutritionally dense foods in the world.

Many herbs have significant and practical functional effects such as being emulsifiers, stabilisers or anti-oxidant. Some contain compounds which are tonic, relaxing, restorative, phytoestrogenic, anti-microbial or anti-arthritic and more.

These ingredients are already finding their way into manufactured products as functional foods and flavourings and some, along with selected bush medicines, are even being used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Yes, foods that were once only used by Australian Aborigines have come a long way.

They now grace the tables of 4 and 5-star restaurants around the world and have been eaten by celebrities and dignitaries all over the planet. Clinton enjoyed wattle pancakes at the Atlanta Olympics and as we mentioned before, our products were very visible throughout the Sydney Games. Prime Ministers, ministers and trade delegates are often served food with native flavours at foreign functions, the Duke of Edinburgh ate, saw manufactured and smelled them on his last visit to Australia and the household of the Sultan of Brunei often enjoys lemon aspen syrup over yoghurt on their breakfast muesli.

Rock’n’roll performers, from Madonna to The Rolling Stones ate and drank native flavours and many used them medicinally to maintain their voices in ‘good’ form when performing in Australia. Please note that these comments do not imply their direct endorsement of any of our products. They simply indicate the scope of the penetration and acceptance of our offerings to date.

But back to the specifics of Australian cuisine.

It is probably obvious to you that the terminology of 20 years ago had to change.

How could you use the term ‘bush tucker’ to describe a dish explained as:

duck breast, rubbed with riberry syrup and served with a mini-tower of Lemon Myrtle Sprinkle rice
in a salad of mesclun greens dressed with a pureée of strawberries scented
with Tasmanian Alpine pepper and enhanced with Fruit Spice
Remember, that if you think your clientele is too conservative to try new flavours, you could describe this same dish as:

aromatic warm salad of glazed roasted duck breast with a fragrant rice
Another could be a:

Lemon Myrtle scented sushi with 3 dipping sauces of
sweetened Davidson plum and pink ginger;
zingy lemon aspen and tamari;
and wild rosella and wasabi
or describe this as an:

Australian sushi with a trio of sauces

then see how many pieces disappear on tasting.

These are important points.

There is little reason to introduce the uncertainty of new ingredients as descriptions on menus when the best way to have your clients try new things you go to the effort of offering, is to give a simple idea of the main ingredient or cooking style and leave the flavours as the discovery and interest of the dish.

Do you mention the garlic you add or the pinch of salt or dob of butter? Then why make a fuss of the pinch of Australian herbs or toss of riberries?

The native flavours uniting the dishes of any world cuisine of the future are versatile, enticing and infinite. And this only based upon the first few dozen ingredients. Just wait for the next lot….

To get the rundown on a host of applications and menu ideas using Cherikoff flavours, have a look at our menu ideas on-line (or download a pdf copy of our product glossary for printing here) and let your creative juices flow.

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