The kakadu plum, native to the tropical woodlands of Australia, has emerged in recent years, led by the remarkable claim that it contains the highest vitamin C concentration of any food on Earth. The Australian Government’s Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation demonstrated that kakadu plums contain between 1,000 – 5,300 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams. This is approximately 100 times greater than the vitamin C concentration of blueberries and oranges. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that improves brain function and fortifies the immune system.

It also displays superior antioxidant properties, containing both water- and oil-soluble antioxidants which are often low in common fruits and vegetables. Initial experiments by Australian researchers from the Edith Cowan University suggested that native plants produce antioxidants as a means of protecting themselves from the harsh environment. Beta-amyloid is the toxic agent in Alzheimer’s that kills brain cells and researchers are exploring if they expose the cells to beta-amyloid in the presence of an extract from the kakadu plum, will the cells be rescued. Researchers are very confident that this antioxidant is more powerful when compared to the antioxidants they know that have some benefit for Alzheimer’s disease.

Kakadu plum associated with “clean” and “green”

Recent research indicates that kakadu plum extracts have strong anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. In fact, researchers in Australia have been getting stunning results from using kakadu plum to improve the shelf-life and colour retention of prawns. With consumer trends towards “clean” and “green” products, and with the natural antimicrobial properties in the plum, they can potentially replace chemical preservatives used by the seafood industry. According to Mintel’s Fish and Shellfish US 2015 report, this would be a welcome change: more than one quarter of US consumers would like to see more fish/shellfish without artificial ingredients such as additives and preservatives.

The seafood industry typically requires cooked prawns to have a shelf-life in excess of 14 days, and the kakadu plum tests have been extending prawns up to 21 days before spoilage. Besides the use of this natural solution, which will help the prawn industry, it will also boost the demand for kakadu plum. Operators that use kakadu plum extract to extend prawn shelf-life have an added marketing advantage of not only a clean/green image, but also purity of provenance – something truly Australian.

As global demand for the superfood grows, one of Australia’s first commercial crops of plantation-grown kakadu plums is ready for harvesting by an indigenous community south of Broome in Western Australia. Already Australian Native Foods Industry Limited has said they need to establish plantations across northern Australia to assure supply to fulfill the 30 tonne contracts and inquiries from Switzerland, America, Argentina and China. Which China rumored to have requested hundreds of tonnes, at the moment the amount harvested from the whole north of Australia is not enough to supply the demand internationally if the superfood gains popularity.

Manufacturers should look to explore opportunities to use the kakadu plum in food and drink applications as its supply escalates for potential global demand. Mintel research highlights that consumers want more natural products and less artificial ingredients, making the kakadu plum an ideal fit, especially as a natural preservative for wild-caught and farmed seafood.

Pam Yates is a Research Manager, APAC at Mintel. Joining Mintel in 2011, Pam specializes in Food Science and works closely with food ingredient companies and food manufacturers throughout Asia Pacific.

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