Research helps to identify bush food properties

Three females and a male smiling, with food on the bench in front of them
Kakadu Plums, Karen Sheldon Catering products and catering staff (left to right): Aroha Briscoe, Belinda Garmu, Wayne Williams and Michelle McCoy.

The Darwin-based company, Karen Sheldon Catering, has teamed up with researchers from the University of Queensland on a project to extend the shelf life of food using preservatives from native foods.

Company director, Sarah Hickey, says with Innovation Connections funding the company has been able to draw on the expertise of University of Queensland researchers to improve the shelf life and nutritional value of the frozen food items they produce for remote community stores.

Innovation Connections is part of the Entrepreneurs’ Programme and has been expanded under the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

The company was keen to maintain the nutritional quality of its food products and believed the native Kakadu Plum could replace chemical additives as a natural preservative.

“Our collaboration with the University of Queensland has provided us with invaluable knowledge on the nutritional, antimicrobial and antioxidant qualities of Kakadu Plum and other native bush foods,” Hickey says.

“We now understand better how to use these amazing ingredients in our cooking processes.

“Left to our own devices and without the support of Innovation Connections, we would not have been able to acquire this type of food science and knowledge.”

Earlier research collaboration between the company and the university, supported by the Australian Government, provided scientific proof that the Kakadu Plum (and the native Davidson Plum) could extend the shelf life of frozen meals by up to 18 months, equaling and at times exceeding the capacity of artificial preservatives. It also identified the best ways to use these native ingredients and threw light on how a total of 18 native foods could be used to enhance food products.

The company accessed an Innovation Connections grant in 2016 to continue working with the university to develop products to commercially produce nutritious par-baked breads using native plant ingredients.

“We support the use of ethically-harvested or caught wild bush foods and believe if Indigenous communities could harvest and process these foods locally, it will provide them with some economic returns from their land and products.”

The company, like-minded businesses and social enterprise groups are now investigating setting up an Australian bush food processing plant in Darwin.

Innovation Connections is one of four elements offered under the Australian Government Entrepreneurs’ Programme.

For more information visit Innovation Connections and Karen Sheldon Catering.

Published January 2017