UQ research reveals nutrition potential of budding bushfood

8 February 2024

A bushfood staple could be the centre of a new Indigenous industry, according to a University of Queensland researcher.

Sera Susan Jacob from the ARC Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods has identified the properties and potential of wattleseed, an edible seed or legume from the Australian Acacia, used traditionally as a staple food.

Sera Jacob holding wattleseed with greenery behind
Sera Susan Jacob with wattleseed samples. Image: Megan Pope, UQ.

“Wattleseed has an incredible nutritional profile that is very different from traditionally known legumes, which creates an interesting market,” Mrs Jacob said.

“The legume is currently used as a flavouring ingredient because of its taste and aroma, but my studies show there are different ways to take advantage of its nutritional properties by using it as a major ingredient.

“Most existing consumer products only use one variety of wattleseed,  A.victoriae, when there are many others to consider.

“Wattleseed has similar protein content to other legumes but is very high in fibre and low in starch.

“It also contains compounds with a lot of anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic benefits, which are important to today’s consumers.”

As part of her PhD research, Mrs Jacob worked with Northern Territory industry partners, Karen Sheldon Group and Kungkas Can Cook to create recipes that contain more than 20 per cent wattleseed, compared to the three per cent found in most existing commercial products.

The recipes included a curry-style savoury dish and a muesli bar to appeal to consumers in regional and remote northern Australia, and a gluten-free vegan burger patty for the wider market.

Karen Sheldon Group Director Sarah Hickey said the recipes meet the recommended daily intake of iron and fibre in a child’s diet – components lacking for those with limited access to affordable, nutritious food.

The recipes also contain Vitamin C to assist with the uptake of iron.

“There is definitely a market for products that showcase wattleseed as they taste great and are packed with nutritional value,” Mrs Hickey said.

“We have seen this in similar products containing legumes like cooked rice in microwavable bags and vegan products.

 “Our objective is to ensure Indigenous Australians are involved in every stage of supply and ideally that any value-add products are made where they’re wild harvested.   

“Our intent is to close the circle of supply, so the seeds harvested on country also end up on the plates of those living on country, improving their diets along with their economic prospects.

“It’s about honouring and respecting Indigenous Australians who have taken such great care of these foods for more than 60,000 years so we can all continue to enjoy them.”  

Mrs Jacob said the opportunities for wattleseed were enormous, as there is documented use of more than 20 different species by Indigenous communities.

“The combination of scientific evidence and Indigenous knowledge is a powerful tool that community can use to successfully market and position their products and the formulations we’ve developed,” she said. 

“They can grow and harvest on country which helps to maintain the cultural heritage and connection to country while providing economic benefits.”

Educational materials from the research findings will also be created to be used in remote schools and community stores to pass on Indigenous knowledge and science.  

The research is published in the Journal of Food Science.

The ARC Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Industrial Transformation Training Centre funding scheme, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and The University of Queensland.

Video and images are available in Dropbox.

Media: Sera Susan Jacob, sera.jacob@uq.edu.au, +61 431 531 741; Sarah Hickey, Karen Sheldon Group Director, sarah@karensheldon.com.au; QAAFI Media, Natalie MacGregor, n.macgregor@uq.edu.au, +61 409 135 651.

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is a research institute at The University of Queensland supported by the Queensland Government via the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.