There are many varieties of Lilly Pilly with fruits in shades varying from vibrant magenta to cherry red and blue. Australia has dozens of species. The tart little fruit has hints of clove and Granny Smith apple and when eaten fresh are like a tiny burst of apple pie filling (before the sugar is added, of course).
Eat them fresh, cooked, pickled or preserved. They can also be stored in the freezer, but will lose their colour when thawed or cooked (sadly, because the colour is stunning). Aside from fresh in salads and desserts, I love them pickled so that I can use them for months post their short season. They do have tiny seeds in them but these are edible and give some texture.
Characterised by a firm texture and a flavour that is reminiscent of apples and pears, the fruit can be eaten straight from the tree, but is also easily incorporated in various desserts, or made into jellies and sauces. It is available fresh from December to February, but frozen versions can be found all year round.
◎ Common Name: Lilly Pilly
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Syzygium spp.
◎ Comparison: Cloves/apples
◎ Seasonality: All year frozen
◎ Region: Eastern
◎ Taste Profile: Lilly Pilly berries have a sweet-tart, musky, and metallic flavour with fruity, spice-filled notes reminiscent of cloves, cinnamon, pears, cranberries, and apples. It is important to note that there are many different varieties of berries under the Lilly Pilly name, and each variety will vary in flavour and texture.
◎ Types: There are around 60 species of Lilly Pilly in Australia, and the fruits from all of them are edible, although not all of them are as palatable as others. The fruits can be eaten fresh from the tree, or used to make jams, cordials and sauces.
- The superfood power of Lilly Pilly is an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that strengthens the immune system, reduces inflammation, and boosts collagen production within the skin.
- The berries are also a good source of anthocyanins to protect the body against environmental aggressors, folate to help develop genetic material, and calcium to reinforce bones.
- Among Aboriginal Australians, the fruits were locally known as “medicine berries” and were believed to help prevent colds and infections.
Traditional Aboriginal Food and Uses
Aboriginal & Traditional
Traditionally, when the brightly coloured berries were in season, they were gathered by Aboriginal women and children and were primarily consumed fresh, out-of-hand. Lilly Pilly berries were also dried and stored for extended use throughout the year and could be easily carried when traveling on foot.
In 1770, Lilly Pilly berries were one of the first recorded plants in the logs of Captain Cook, and with the continued settling of European colonists, Lilly Pilly berries expanded in popularity as a flavouring for jams and jellies.
Western & Modern
Lilly Pilly berries can be consumed fresh, out-of-hand, but the fruit’s tart flavour can sometimes be overpowering when raw. The sour notes are balanced when the berries are paired with sweeteners, and the fruits are primarily utilised in Australia in cooked applications, including baking and boiling.
Lilly Pilly berries are used to make jams, jellies, syrups, and chutney, and they are incorporated into salad dressings for a unique flavour. The fruits are also mixed into green salads, blended into smoothies, cooked with sugar and used as a topping over ice cream, or baked into muffins, pies, cakes, bread, and tarts.
In addition to sweet preparations, Lilly Pilly berries can be served as a tangy sauce for roasted meats or infused into liquors for cocktails.
Lilly Pilly was used by the native aborigines for its anti-bacterial properties. In addition, it also had great healing components present in it. Rich in vitamin C, it has good astringent properties that improve the firmness of the skin which in turn helps your skin look radiant and youthful. It is used today in a variety of anti-ageing skincare products.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble