Gubinge: A Seriously Super Food

| May 27, 2014

Miracle foods and dietary crazes have been around for centuries. We’re all looking for a shortcut when deep down, we know there is hard work to be done, and some would say that superfoods are no exception. Superfoods are, by definition, superior to other types of food in that they are calorie sparse and nutrient dense, containing more antioxidants and essential nutrients than ‘normal’ food. But putting aside that debate, how many of us have stopped and really thought about where superfoods come from?

Of course it won’t come as much of a surprise to you Planthunters that nearly all superfoods come from plants! And while a lot of superfoods are sourced from plants growing in the depths of the Amazonian rainforests in South America, the mountainous regions of remote China or the dry, arid plains of Mexico, there is one grown right here in Australia: Terminalia ferdinandiana.

Known colloquially by various names including billygoat plum, Kakadu plum or gubinge, this small deciduous tree can found growing throughout the subtropical woodlands of both Western Australia and the Northern Territory, but it is the fruit grown in the Kimberely that has tested highest for levels of vitamin C.

This is what gives gubinge its superfood status: it has the highest levels of vitamin C of any fruit tested in the entire world with fifty times more vitamin C than those deceptive oranges.

Traditionally eaten raw, the iridescent green fruit of the gubinge tree was used by to treat a number of ailments and the flaky bark was boiled in baler shells to treat skin conditions and soothe aching limbs. Today, it is consumed as a powder made by dehydrating the fruit at 40C for 16 hours before it is milled into a powder, which can be added to juices and smoothies and sprinkled over cereals. With its antibacterial and antiviral properties, just a small amount consumed daily will help boost the immune system and ward of winter coughs and colds.

Despite its growing popularity, getting this product to market isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Efforts to cultivate the fruit using modern irrigation techniques and typical commercial horticultural practices haven’t been successful, with variable yields and fruit much lower in vitamin C than its wild harvested counterparts.

At Twin Lakes Cultural Park, located on the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome, the use of traditional land management practices such as controlled burning has seen gubinge thrive and in 2010, their first product Nyul Nyul Wildcrafted Gubinge Powder was launched in collaboration with Loving Earth. All the profits of this product are donated back to Nyul Nyul people of Twin Lakes to help develop infrastructure in furtherance of this enterprise.

This partnership between Twin Lakes and Loving Earth represents a shift in the way we think about farming, potentially paving the way for an entire bush food industry providing meaningful employment for Aboriginal people, driven by their own culture. It’s a lot for a fruit the size of an olive to achieve, but if it manages to pull all that off, I’d say gubinge is worthy of being called a superfood.

Images sourced from Taste Of The Top End.