Bunya nut comes from the evergreen coniferous Bunya pine (Araucaria bidwilli), which is native to Queensland, Australia. These nuts when cooked taste sweet and are starchy similar to the taste of chestnuts or potatoes. Apart from Queensland, Bunya pines can also be seen cultivated in various other places of Australia such as Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia. The bunya nut cones or fruit are rather huge, covered in spikes and heavy too. It is dangerous to hang around under the bunya trees during their fruiting time as the ripe cones fall to the ground. Once the cones become ripe, they should be harvested and processed or kept frozen within a week. Inside the cone, the nuts are enclosed in a wooden shell. Boiling the nuts can help in removing the shell easily. Bunya nuts are nutritionally rich and offer several health benefits.
Nutritional information of bunya nut
The nutritional content of the bunya nut is somewhat similar to that of chestnuts. It is comprised of water (40%), complex carbohydrates (40%), protein (9%), fat (2%), and minerals like potassium and magnesium. Bunya nut is gluten free and hence the flour made from it is considered to be an ideal substitute for people having gluten intolerance. Bunya nut has a healthy glycemic index (GI) rating, in the range of 50 to 75.
Cultural Significance of Bunya nut
The bunya tree is prevalent to the South-East parts of Queensland with small number of trees in the northern parts of Australia as well. The tree fruits at intervals of three years and it produces huge numbers of bunya cones that contain edible nuts during the bunya season, which occurs from January to March. Local aborigines were bound to these forests through custodial rights and obligations. According to early recordings, the religious practices of the aboriginal people were mostly associated with seasonal ceremonial gatherings. When the harvesting period of the bunya pines approaches, messengers would be sent by the forest custodians to different territories to declare the upcoming festival. People would travel from far away just to take part in this festival. During this festival season they would gather in the Bunya Mountains and arrange ceremonies, marriages, trade goods, hold fights and also settle disputes. The bunya nuts served as a food resource, which was enough to support the gatherings of thousands of people for several months. As the season comes to a close, these people would return to their home territories.
With the beginning of British colonization, the bunya forests were gradually felled for wood and timber, and cleared to make way for cultivation, despite the fierce resistance from the aboriginal groups. These groups were eventually driven out of the forests and the bunya festival had become a thing of the past by the end of the nineteenth century.
Anti-bacterial activity of bunya nut extract
Studies indicate that bunya nut extract exhibits anti-bacterial activity and hence has the potential to be used as food additives to slow down food spoilage caused by bacteria and also to inhibit food borne illnesses. Using this natural additive can therefore do away with the need for adding chemical preservatives. Furthermore, the antibacterial properties of bunya nut extract may also have promise in the medical field as they can be used as antibiotic or anti-microbial agents.
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Commercial uses of bunya tree
The wood of bunya tree has been used in flooring and also for making cabinets. The branches are used by the local people for fencing as well as a source of fuel. There is a huge demand for the soft wood of the bunya pine for making acoustic guitar soundboards. The trees not only provide shade and shelter but also act as an effective wind breaker.
How to prepare the bunya nut for cooking
Bunya nuts come in different sizes and shapes. While some are white, small and round, others are brown and oval in shape. The brown colored ones have a creamy texture and the white ones have a coarse texture. Bunyas fall to the ground when they are ready to harvest. If the cones are intact after hitting the ground, you need to break open the cone and separate the nuts from it. Unlike other nuts like the walnuts, the bunya nuts have a leathery and tough shell and will not break open easily. You may need to use tools like a cleaver or serrated knife to get the job done. Once the nuts are extracted, keep them in water for a few minutes to get rid of the thin brown skin. Boiling is the most recommended way of preparing the bunya nut, because other methods like frying and roasting may cause the flesh to dry out. The nuts need to be cooked for a good 30 to 45 minutes. Some people choose to boil them in brine, as this method tends to give the nuts a salty and savory taste.
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Storing bunya nuts
Bunya nuts taste best when eaten fresh. However, if you want to store them, the ideal way is to freeze the nuts in their shells. Before putting the nuts in the refrigerator, you can store the nuts in a string bag and place the bag in a dry and well-aired place away from direct sunlight. This will help to prevent the growth of fungus. Storing the nuts inside the refrigerator keeps them fresh and prevents them from sprouting.
The bunya nut is considered to be highly nutritious, with a distinct flavor almost similar to potato and chestnut. It is most popularly used as a ‘bush food’ (bush tucker) by the native food enthusiasts. The Bunya nut was consumed raw or roasted by the aborigines. They also buried the nuts in mud for many months as they believed that it would greatly enhance the flavor. Bunya nut is nowadays used as an ingredient in making a vast variety of dishes including casseroles, pies, quiches, pastas, pancakes, porridge, hummus, pesto, biscuits, desserts, cakes, and breads.
Caution – the yellow core inside the nut may cause some people sick. You may remove the yellow core before consuming.