The highly sought after Illawarra Plum is a small bush tucker fruit which is native to the sub-tropical rainforests of eastern NSW and Queensland. Deep purple and small in size, these plums are also known as daalgal, goongum and pine plums.
The seed is actually on the outside of the fruit which is incredibly useful! The hard seed is quickly twisted off and the fleshy part of the fruit can be eaten raw, cooked, made into jam or spirits. The flesh is connected to a rather large inedible seed so they are a little bit of work but worth it by way of a sweet and piney-flavoured flesh reward.
The vivid purple fruit has a plum/pine flavour which is primarily harvested in the wild.
◎ Common Name: Illawarra Plum, Daalgal, Goongum, Pine Plums, Gidneywallum
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Podocarpus elatus
◎ Comparison: Tart and sour plum
◎ Seasonality: All year frozen
◎ Region: Rainforest
◎ Taste Profile: Its juicy, pulpy fruits have a grape-like texture and sweetish, mild pine flavour that is enhanced by cooking.
◎ Types: There is also a lesser known dwarf variety of Illawarra Plum, scientific name podocarpus spinulosus.The plant doesn’t grow as tall and has smaller, yet virtually identical leaves, and still produces edible fruit which are very similar to Illawarra Plums.
- The fruit contains appreciable quantities of sticky sugars which are hugely beneficial to the gastrointestinal tract.
- The antioxidant level is three times that of blueberries.
- They are very high in Vitamin C.
Aboriginal & Traditional
In NSW, Illawarra Plum was regarded as one of the best bush foods by both Aboriginal people and European colonists. The fleshy stems of the seeds were eaten by Aboriginal people in some parts of Australia.
The wood has a very fine, even texture and a straight grain with inconspicuous growth rings. It was favoured by colonists for use in table tops, furniture, packing cases, kitchen utensils, musical instruments (piano keys and violin bellies) and wood turning.
Western & Modern
The fruit is mainly harvested in the wild when it is fully ripe. Though it can be eaten raw, it is mainly incorporated in desserts or savoury sauces and is commonly used in the production of jams, conserves, and beverages.
They’re often used as a compliment for chilli, garlic, sauces and marinades, and are especially popular in sauces, preserves, muffins, cheesecakes and fruit compotes. When cooking with Illawarra Plums, stainless steel utensils are recommended over aluminium to prevent bitterness.
There are a few extremely important factors to consider when using Illawarra Plums as an ingredient. The flavour of the Illawarra Plum is best when perfectly ripe, or slightly overripe, when it is ready to fall off the tree, or has already fallen onto the ground. It is tempting to pick it off early, but the flavour will not be as pleasant! Freezing the plums is also detrimental to the flavour.
Research and testing into the fruit by the CSIRO and Food Science Australia as recently as 2013 (Published in the British Journal of Nutrition June 28) have proven that compared to the blueberry it has more than 3 times the antioxidant activity. The study is exciting because the plums were shown reduce the growth of colon cancer cells and could be very useful in cancer treatments. Other studies at the CSIRO in Adelaide are looking into the ability of the plums to slow the growth & replication of fat cells in our bodies to help with maintaining bodyweight. Add to this that the fruit tastes great fresh and is very juicy!
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble