Australian researchers find native grasses could be grown for mass consumption

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Read full article By Lorena Allam @ The Guardian Photo Credit: The Guardian

Native millet found to be easy to grow, harvest and turn into flour and ‘significantly more nutritious’ than wheat

Native grasses could be grown for mass consumption, a one-year feasibility study has found, after researchers tested 15 different species “from paddock to plate” in north-west New South Wales.

Native millet, or panicum, turned out to be the best all-rounder: easy to grow and harvest, easy to turn into flour and “significantly more nutritious” than wheat, lead researcher Dr Angela Pattison from the University of Sydney said. Native millet is also gluten free, she added.

The study, which involved researchers in ecology, food science, social science, marketing and business, found that native millet was the most economically viable of all the grains they tested. Native grains are called dhunbarr in the Gamilaraay language.

Researchers also found that native grasses had environmental benefits. As perennials they sequester carbon, support biodiversity and preserve threatened species and habitats, but the researchers say all these benefits need further study.

The work was done in collaboration with Gamilaraay traditional owners, local farmers and the Indigenous social enterprise, Black Duck Foods, founded by Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe.

Pascoe has also experimented with the use of native grains on his property, on Yuin country near Mallacoota in Victoria.

“I just wanted to say: look guys, let’s stop researching and discussing and talking about theories, and let’s just do it,” Pattison said. “It can be done. It’s not going to be easy but let’s just make it happen.”

Mitchell grass, kangaroo grass and native millet were ground up and made into fire-roasted bread, or dhuwarr (also known as johnny cake) by Gamilaraay people for thousands of years, Pattison said.

But there is a “great deal” researchers still don’t know about the basic ecology and physiology of native grassland species and systems.

They did learn that native grasses are not as vigorous as introduced pasture grasses and weeds, so getting a crop up and running can be expensive and time consuming.

“The challenge for us going forward is to be able to match up the economic, the cultural and the environmental sustainability of the system,” she said.

“When we are facing challenges like climate change, we’ve got to get this right. We can’t just assume if we plant these things, it’s going to be better.”

Experimenting with grains to bake johnny cake had been the most fun part of the study, Pattison said.

“We’ve had johnny cake days with lots of different community members,” she said. “I normally just bring the flour and put it on the table, and let whoever is present make their own version [using different amounts of native flour].

“I’ve tried all versions, and I found that some, to be completely honest, really do taste like grass. Some of the species I don’t think are going to be particularly palatable in the modern market. Some species taste better than others.”

Her favourite was johnny cake stuffed “like an apple pie” with quandong – a bright pink-red fruit, sweet and tangy, sometimes called a wild peach.

“We just put the baked fruit inside the dough and then we just tossed it on the coals and it was so good. I ate way too much.”

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Posted on

November 16, 2020

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