Discover The Oldest Foods on Earth with John Newton »

Simply a fantastic read and worth buying

By Laura McKinnon
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Restaurant Australia 2014 - WA quandongs stuffed with sandalwood nut ice cream

Restaurant Australia 2014 - WA quandongs stuffed with sandalwood nut ice cream

Anzac biscuits with wattleseed recipe
The Oldest Foods on Earth - a history of Australian native foods by John Newton
The Outback Chef - Quandong Couscous
Diemen Pepper - native pepper leaf


Why is it that Australians are so fast to adopt international food influences and ingredients, yet so slow to use our own native flora and fauna? Are we still scared of the 'unknown' 200+ years after white settlement?

Newton argues that Australians celebrate cultural and culinary diversity, yet seem to shun foods that grew here before white settlers arrived. Many of these native foods can be seen as an equal to the more exotic ‘superfoods’ that have come from overseas locations, yet it is still commonplace for native foods to be shunned and for the more European- and Asian-based foods to be favoured.

He also argues that in a time when we need to become far more sustainable, that using native food plants would be far better than many of those originating overseas that are intolerant of our soils, require more water and struggle in our climatic conditions.

The Oldest Foods on Earth is about changing our attitudes to eating different foods; foods that could potentially help to reconcile us with the land and its first inhabitants, who have been cooking with and using native ingredients for around 40,000 to 50,000 years.

Encouragingly however, Newton sees that the tide is starting to turn, with many Australians of foreign ancestry (that's most of us) beginning to favour dishes that include ingredients like kangaroo, quandong and magpie goose, amongst others.

What you receive in this book are stories of the foods indigenous to Australia plus recipes from top Australian chefs. Kylie Kwong, Peter Gilmore, Maggie Beer, Matt Stone, Tony Bilson and many more tops chefs contribute recipes.

Stir-fried Native Greens make an appearance courtesy of Kylie Kwong; Raymond Kersh delivers a Finger Lime, Wild Lime, Lemon and Quandong Tart; Phillip Searle offers Kangaroo with Pickled Beetroot; and Jean-Paul Bruneteau showcases a Rolled Wattleseed Pavlova. These are only a few of the native food-based recipes on offer.

Newton argues that a resurgence in using Australian-based foods needs to happen, and after reading I cannot say that I disagree. Often cooks look for different ingredients to add flair to their foods, and here they are on our own doorstep!

Here’s also hoping that the decision makers involved with supermarket chains and cooking shows get the chance to pick up and read a copy of this book. It could prove revolutionary in terms of what is offered on supermarket shelves, what we cook, and could create a significant increase in the variety of foods and flavours we develop.

Giving Australia a unique culinary edge would likely not prove bad for exports or the economy, either.

The Oldest Foods on Earth is definitely a worthwhile purchase for any serious cook who wants to give their cooking a point of difference. It is also a good read for anyone interested in Australian history or sustainability.

The recipes are fairly accessible, however many of the foods will not be obtainable at your regular supermarket (this is what Newton would like to change). Helpfully, the author provides an excellent list of contacts (including online) to help with sourcing appropriate ingredients. One such example is

Newton also provides a detailed list of Australian edible plants, animals and grains. For each plant you can find its botanical name, a description, its location, flavour, health benefits and its uses.

This is a well thought out, well researched and inspiring book that on top of everything is incredibly interesting. Definitely a highlight of culinary literature for 2016.

The Oldest Foods on Earth: A History of Native Australian Foods with recipes by John Newton is published by New South (Kensington NSW, Feb 2016; sc, 288pp). It retails in Australia for RRP A$29.99. It is available at good book stores and directly from the publisher here »

You can also find it online via here »

Read the media release on The Oldest Foods on Earth here »

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July 16th, 2016
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