Solanum chippendalei, or the bush tomato, as it is commonly referred to in Australia, has long been an important food souce for Indigenous Australians, largely because it is entirely edible as a dried or fresh fruit. The botanical name derives from that of the Australian botanist George Chippendale, who made significant contributions to Australian botanical knowledge throughout his career.
The tomato, just larger than a grape, grows wildly in the arid, red soil regions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, as well as in northern Queensland. The tomato plant itself is a small shrub, easily distinguishable by its bright purple flowers and yellow fruits during May to October.
Bush tomatoes are a rich source of protein and calcium and contain 3.2 grams of dietary fiber, which is higher than the amount provided by an apricot. It is popular practice among Aboriginal peoples and within the Australian food industry to sun-dry bush tomatoes. The sun-dried fruits are known as akudjura and have an intense tamarillo flavor. Dried bush tomatoes have lower levels of alkaloids, simultaneously reducing their bitterness and potential harmful impacts on the human nervous system. Aboriginal women often gather the tomatoes to be ground with tree gums as a preservative. The ground mixture can be formed into balls, or flattened out for further drying and future consumption.
Recent studies from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have looked into germination techniques to help promote the bush tomato in the Australian food industry. Following the success of other indigenous Australian crops such as macadamia nuts and quandongs, it is hoped that improved methods of propagation will enable commercial production of the bush tomato. The increasing popularity of wild foods certainly provides a window of opportunity for this little fruit to reach its full potential on the domestic and international markets. At the moment, the tomatoes are proving a popular addition to chutneys, baked goods and salads, and can be used in savory or sweet dishes such as these savory bush tomato scones.
Indigenous crops have provided communities with nourishment for thousands of years. Traditional and indigenous varieties of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains are not only typically highly nutritious, but also provide much-needed diversity in peoples’ diets, particularly in the developing world. Food Tank will regularly feature indigenous crops from around the world, highlighting the important roles they play in providing nutrients, improving food security, raising incomes, and making staple crops taste good.