The Ultimate Guide to Natural Australian Antioxidants
By Gemma Sampson, AccSD.
Regardless of your preferred physical activity, exercise fundamentally places stress on the body. But what we eat and drink after exercise can help our body recover from these stresses.
We often think about having carbs and protein for muscle recovery, however, antioxidants should also be considered an essential part of your post-exercise recovery. More importantly, research has shown that the best results come from using antioxidant-rich whole foods and not supplements. In fact, supplements may have a negative impact on recovery.
With this in mind, chances are that blueberries initially sprang to mind as an ideal boost of antioxidants. However, there are actually a wealth of nutrient-rich native Australian plants, herbs, and spices that contain antioxidants at far greater quantities! So let’s embrace Australia’s natural bush tucker and consider using some of these native ‘superfoods’ to spice up your kitchens and bump up the antioxidant content of your meals, snacks, and drinks.
Our Native Antioxidants
Anise myrtle leaves have a strong aniseed, menthol or liquorice scent and flavour. They can be used fresh but are usually dried, ground, and used as a flavouring or to make tea. Rich in antioxidant activity and magnesium, they also have a good source of lutein, folate, vitamin E, and vitamin C. Traditionally, it has been used to help improve appetite, settle intestinal cramps, colic, and flatulence.
The bush tomato or desert raisin is a native central Australian fruit. They have a savoury caramelised flavour with a spicy kick and can be used fresh or dried. Bush tomatoes are a good source of selenium, potassium, iron, folate, zinc, magnesium and calcium, that reportedly contain greater antioxidant content than blueberries.
With their low sugar content and tart acidic flavour, Davidson plums are not commonly eaten fresh. This, however, makes them perfect for use in jams, chutneys, and sauces. Rich in anthocyanins, they also have higher antioxidant capacity than blueberries and contain vitamin E, lutein, folate, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. The skin in particular contains the richest source of nutrients.
The desert lime or native cumquat is a small, intensively flavoured citrus fruit, the size of a small grape. They have a very thin rind, are often seedless and can be used in any recipe that calls for ‘normal’ limes. Being low in sugar and high acidity makes desert limes suited for jams, tarts, jellies, preserves, cordial or cider. They contain high levels of calcium, vitamin C, folate, vitamin E, and antioxidants.
While typically green-yellow in colour, finger limes come in an array of colours including crimson, purple, and black. Used as a garnish or where fresh lemon or lime may be used, the inside flesh has a caviar like appearance which pairs well with seafood dishes, desserts, Asian dishes or added to salads. Little research has been conducted on the nutritional content of finger limes, although it is reported to contain magnesium.
The Kakadu plum has been found to have the highest quantity of vitamin C compared to any other fruit – reportedly 100 times greater than oranges! Pale olive-green in colour, they have a tart and bitter taste and traditionally were eaten raw or boiled into a tea for colds and flu. Now they are more commonly found in jams, preserves or sauces, but they have been used in sports drinks or dried and used as a dietary supplement. The fruit has five times greater antioxidant capacity than blueberries, also containing vitamin E, folate, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.
The lemon aspen or pigeon berry produces a lemon and grapefruit flavoured fruit. They can be eaten fresh, used in sauces, dressings, jellies, chutneys, relishes, cordials, fruit wines, to flavour mineral water, or dried and used as a powdered spice. Nutritionally, it has higher in antioxidant capacity than blueberries and is a good source of folate, zinc, and iron.
The flavour of dried and milled lemon myrtle leaves is often described as ‘lemonier’ than a lemon. It contains the highest amount of citral (>90%) than any plant in the world. Containing more lutein than avocados, it is rich in calcium, folate, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin E. Lemon myrtle is typically used as tea, to flavour drinks, cakes, and biscuits as a dried spice. It can be used as an alternative to lemongrass in cooking, making it useful in curries and Asian dishes looking for a citrus flavour.
Also known as the desert peach, the quandong has a yellow to red, dry-textured fruit with tart, slightly sour and salty flavour. They are rich in antioxidants, contain high levels of folate and Vitamin E and are a good source of magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron. The fruit is often sun dried, used in jams, sauces, juices or desserts.
The riberry or lilly pilly is a small, bright red, pear shaped fruit with a strong tart and spicy flavour that hints of cloves and cinnamon. They can be eaten raw and used in both sweet and savoury recipes, pairing well with game meats like kangaroo, soft cheeses, salads, and desserts. Riberry has high levels of anthocyanins, antioxidants, folate, and are a good source of calcium. The fruit has a short shelf life once picked and must be refrigerated or frozen shortly after harvesting.
Also known as Tasmanian pepper or pepperberry, both the berries and leaves of this rainforest shrub can be used fresh or dried to provide a hot, spicy, and aromatic flavour to dishes. The dried berries can be used in cooking like black pepper while the leaves work as a curry leaf with a hot, spicy, and aromatic flavour. Mountain pepper is high in antioxidants and contain vitamin E, vitamin A, zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron, with a betacarotene ten times greater than that in blueberries.
Muntries are a small, green to red berry that gets a purple tinge as they ripen. They have a spicy apple-like flavour, with a hint of fruit mince and spice, are a good source of vitamin C and contain two and a half times the antioxidant activity of blueberries. As a fresh fruit they can be used in salads or desserts, cooked into pies, jams, chutneys, fruit leather, wine or used as a substitute for sultanas within a recipe.
Dried and roasted wattle seeds have a nutty chicory-like flavour and aroma, often used in coffee, ice-cream, creamy desserts or to flavour breads, muffins, muesli and pancakes. It can be used as a caffeine-free coffee alternative. Traditionally they provided a valuable source of protein and carbohydrate and would be ground to a flour, mixed with water, and made into cakes. Wattleseed has a low glycaemic index, is high in protein and is a good source of magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, and selenium.