For up to 10,000 years, the Aborigines of Australia ave partaken of the native fruits of the country. Yet many Australians today would struggle to name these fruits, such as the Illawarra plum and the Tasmanian pepper, since they are more familiar with European-derived produce brought to the continent by settlers. With new studies showing that native fruits are among the healthiest on the planet, both Australians and health-conscious eaters the world over are turning their attention to these indigenous gems.
A Versatile Berry
One fruit garnering considerable accolades is the muntrie berry. These fruits grow on small shrubs found on the coastal dunes of Southern Australia, and are earning notice for their unique taste, versatility in cooking, and their health benefits. Though the multicolored red, green, and purple berries resemble blueberries in size and shape, the fruit has a spicy apple flavor. The small, crunchy berries can be eaten fresh or used in the place of apples in sauces, chutneys, pies, and muffins. They also pair well with meats, especially lamb and pork. Muntrie berry wine is also being tested and developed.
Like the acai berry is to the Amazon region, the muntrie berry appears to be a native super food. A recent study of twelve native Australian fruits, the muntrie included, showed that the antioxidant capacity of many of these fruits were significantly higher than the blueberry, which is renowned for its high antioxidant levels. The fruit, in fact, may have up to four times the antioxidants of blueberries and further testing continues. Antioxidants help protect cells against the damaging effects of free radicals; antioxidant-rich foods are reported to improve immune function and lower the risk for infection, heart disease, and cancer.
Such findings have propelled muntries from obscurity in the bush to a thriving commercial crop. New plantations in Southern Australia and Victoria are poised to ship the fruit around the world. As research on the health benefits of this berry expands, so do the markets, such as being incorporated into beauty products. Interestingly, the natural waxes found in the berry nourish the skin and provide a barrier against moisture loss. It seems that from the spa to the table, muntries promise a delight for the senses, a tonic for the body, and a journey down under.