The Bunya nut
Bunya nuts are a traditional food for Australian Aboriginal people and have been eaten and celebrated for thousands of years. The tree and the nuts and the area in which they naturally grow is sacred and has cultural significance.
The Bunya tree (genus Araucaria) is an evergreen, subtropical conifer that stands majestically in the landscape. They can be over 50 metres high and live for up to 500 years. They are native to Sth East QLD (Bunya Mountains) and are also found in Northern NSW and can be seen in Victoria (Botanical gardens and Ripponlea).
The Stegosaurus dinosaurs ate them and would have spread the seeds millions of years ago. The trees carry both male and female seeds, are territorial and take a long time to crop.
The Bunya cones can reach the size of a football and weight over 5kgs containing sometimes up to 100 nuts. The cones of nuts fall from the tree when ripe and are often seen smashed and open on the ground.
These nuts are nutritious, rich in oils, proteins and carbohydrates. They are starchy, not too oily and delicious when freshly eaten from the tree. Australian Aboriginal people used to bury them in the mud to get extra flavour.
They taste similar to Chestnuts with a slight sweetness, crisp and filling.
Preparation can include, roasting, boiling and grinding them into flour (nut meal). It is quite difficult to get the nut out of the wooden fibrous shell and boiling them for about 20 minutes makes it easier to remove the nut.
The season for harvest is between December and March and there is usually a good harvest every 2-3 years.
The highly nutritious tuberous tap root from the germination of the seed can also be eaten. Sometimes it was fermented by Aboriginal people in the region, which further enhanced its nutrition.
Unfortunately, the native area for Bunya trees in the Bunya Mountains in Sth East Qld where they grew fell to timber harvests during settlements of Europeans in that area and only some of the many trees remain now. They are endangered of being extinct due to a fungi (saprophytic) which has spread in Sth East Qld. 22,500 acres has been set aside as a national park to protect them. I have personally travelled into this area and as you wind throughout the surrounding area to get there you can see many along the roadside. They are fascinating to see.
Bunya Nut Meal can be added to baking flours, cakes, desserts and anything else you use almond meal for.
Julie Merlet 2022