Australian Aboriginal sweet foods

Australian Aborigines had many ways to source sweet foods. The four main types of sweet foods gathered – apart from ripe fruit – were:[1]

  • honey from ants and bees (sugarbag, see below)
  • leaf scale (honeydew – lerps)
  • tree sap
  • flower nectar

In some parts of Australia, these customs are still used today, particularly in Central Australia. Foods collected can be eaten directly as a sweet or made into a sweet drink.

Arrernte sweet foods and drinks

The Arrernte of Central Australia divide their food up into a number of groups. Many other groups also do this or did this traditionally. The Arrernte word for sweet foods is Ngkwarle — honey-like foods.

Some Aboriginal people who still have their language often refer to alcohol by this sweet food group term.

Arrernte Name English name Details
Ngkwarle athenge
Ironwood (Acacia estrophiolata) tree gum Ironwood gum is broken off tree branches. It can be red or clear. It runs down the tree to the ground in long beads. It is snapped off and mixed in some water and left to set. It is then scooped up with a little stick and eaten.
Ngkwarle alkerampwe Mulga (Acacia aneura) tree gum Gum can be found sitting in small blobs in a row on branches. Some bits are clear and some red. They are snapped off with a wooden skewer. Once quite a few are collected, they are given to the children as a treat.
Ngkwarle arlperrampwe Whitewood (Atalaya hemiglauca) tree gum Arlperrampwe is found on the trunk and branches of the whitewood in big globs. Some of it runs down the tree as its hanging there. It is collected and made into a lump and kneaded until soft, and is then eaten.
Ngkwarle atnyerampwe Supplejack (Ventilago viminalis) tree gum Gum is scraped off after it comes through the bark. It is twisted onto a stick. It is chewy like chewing gum. Only small amounts can be eaten without water or it induces headache.
Ngkwarle akikarre Witchetty bush (Acacia kempeana) gum When the flowers start to fall from the Witchetty bush, the gum comes through the bark and forms lumps, usually on the trunk. Some is red and some is clear. It is kneaded into a lump, sprinkling a bit of water on it. It can be placed on a little stick to make a lollipop .
Ngkwarle aperarnte River red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) honeydew Aperarnte is the sweet stuff that drips down or is extracted from the bark of the river red gum. It is retrieved from the bark or from the ground after it has dripped down.
Ngkwarle aperaltye River red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Psylla eucalypti) leaf scale Small, waxy white flakes of aperaltye are found on the leaves of the river red gum. Branches can be shaken so that it falls onto a sheet or bowl below, then swept up and packed into a ball for eating.
Ngkwarle alhelpe-arenye Mallee (Eucalyptus) leaf scale Scale is scraped off to be eaten.
Ngkwarle yerrampe Honeyant (Melophorus camponotus) The honeyant is found in the ground in mulga country. Its nest is slightly different from other ants' nests. The holes on the surface are smaller. Women dig down from the openings, following the shaft, scooping out the dirt. Honeyants are harvested from the side in the main part of the nest. They are dragged out with a little stick. They are not swallowed, but placed on the tongue and the abdomen is bitten and honey sucked from it.
Ngkwarle arwengalkere;
Ngkwarle urltampe
Native bee honey, sugarbag Sugarbag is found in tree hollows. A small 'nose' is found made of wax, protruding from the tree. This is chopped into to split it open. The head part is retrieved first, where the larvae are, then the honey. Honey is gathered in a coolamon or billycan to be eaten later.
Ngkwarle untyeyampe Corkwood (Hakea suberea) flower nectar When the yellow flowers hang down, corkwood flower nectar is ready to harvest. The nectar is shaken onto a hand and then the dark bits that fall there are licked off. Sometimes it can be placed in water and drunk. It can be used for this purpose when a person is sick. Everyone likes to collect this food.
Ngkwarle ntewale Bloodwood (Eucalyptus opaca) flower nectar Ntewale is the flower of the bloodwood tree. It has a pale nectar. Native bees make honey from these flowers. The flower is broken off and sucked, or nectar shaken onto the hand and the hand licked. When the flowers die off, the bush coconuts come.

Other sweet foods and drinks

The practices of the Arrernte were widely practised by many other groups across Australia. But customs varied depending on where people lived. Some other notable sweet foods include:

  • Banksia: People placed the flower spike in a paperbark-lined hole filled with water to make a sweet drink.
  • Grevillea: Nectar shaken and eaten, or mixed with water to make a sweet drink.
  • Xanthorrhoea: Sweet drink from nectar by soaking in water.


  1. ^ Turner, Margaret-Mary, Arrernte Foods: Foods from Central Australia, IAD Press, Alice Springs, 1994, ISBN 0-949659-76-2, pp1-10.
Bush tucker

Bush tucker, also called bushfood, is any food native to Australia and used as sustenance by the original inhabitants, the Aboriginal Australians, but it can also describe any native fauna or flora used for culinary and/or medicinal purposes, regardless of the continent or culture. Examples of Australian native animal foods (meats) include kangaroo, emu and crocodile. In particular, kangaroo is quite common and can be found in Australian supermarkets, often cheaper than beef. Other animals, for example goanna and witchetty grubs, were eaten by Aboriginal Australians. Fish and shellfish are culinary features of the Australian coastal communities.

Examples of Australian native plant foods include the fruits quandong, kutjera, muntries, riberry, Davidson's plum, and finger lime. Native spices include lemon myrtle, mountain pepper, and aniseed myrtle. A popular leafy vegetable is warrigal greens. Nuts include bunya nut, and the most identifiable bush tucker plant harvested and sold in large-scale commercial quantities is the macadamia nut. Knowledge of Aboriginal uses of fungi is meagre but beefsteak fungus and native "bread" (a fungus also), were certainly eaten.

Aboriginal Australians have eaten native animal and plant foods for an estimated 60,000 years of human habitation on the Australian continent (see Indigenous Australian food groups, Australian Aboriginal sweet foods). Various traditional methods of processing and cooking are used. Toxic seeds, such as Cycas media and Moreton Bay chestnut, are processed to remove the toxins and render them safe to eat. Many foods are also baked in the hot campfire coals, or baked for several hours in ground ovens. "Paperbark", the bark of Melaleuca species, is widely used for wrapping food placed in ground ovens. Bush bread was made by males using many types of seeds, nuts and corns to process a flour or dough to make bread.

Aboriginal traditional native food use has been severely affected by non-indigenous immigration since 1788, especially in the more densely colonised areas of south-eastern Australia. There, the introduction of non-native foods to Aboriginals has resulted in an almost complete abandonment of native foods by Aboriginals. This impact on traditional foods has been further accentuated by the loss of traditional lands which has resulted in reduced access to native foods by Aboriginals and destruction of native habitat for agriculture.

The recent recognition of the nutritional and gourmet value of native foods by non-indigenous Australians is introducing native cuisine to many for the first time.

Codrington Plantations

The Codrington Plantations were two historic sugarcane producing estates on the island of Barbados, established in the 17th Century by Christopher Codrington (c. 1640 – 1698) and his father of the same name. Sharing the characteristics of many plantations of the period in their reliance on slave labour, their particular significance was as a part of a charitable bequest in 1710, on the death of the third Christopher Codrington (1668 – 1710), to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG).

The history of the plantations illustrates both the 18th century Church of England's dependence on financial support for Christian mission work in the West Indies from local landowners, and, until the growth of the Abolitionism, an institutional unwillingness to address issues relating to slavery.

Cuban sugar economy

The Cuban sugar economy is the principal agricultural economy in Cuba. Historically, the Cuban economy relied heavily on sugar exports, but sugar production has declined since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2015, raw sugar accounted for $378 million of Cuba's $1.4 billion exports.

Fiji Sugar Corporation

Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) is the government-owned sugar milling company in Fiji having monopoly on production of raw sugar in Fiji. It is also the largest public enterprise in the country employing nearly 3,000 people, while another 200,000 or more depend on it for their livelihood in rural sugar cane belts of Fiji.It operates four sugar mills, the Lautoka mill, the Rarawai mill in Ba, the Penang mill in Rakiraki in Viti Levu, and the Labasa mill in Vanua Levu. The mill in Lautoka is the largest in Fiji and once held the title of being the largest sugar mill in the southern hemisphere.

The FSC was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1972, and officially came to existence on April 1, 1973. As of May 31, 2009, of the 44,399,998 fully paid shares, the government owned 30,239,160 shares (68.1%), and statutory bodies, local public companies and individuals held the rest of the shares.

FSC has a board of directors appointed by the government, and the board acts as a policy-making and governing body. It is managed and staffed predominantly by Fiji citizens. Following independence from the Great Britain, Colonial Sugar Refining Company continued to act as Fiji's sugar marketing agent overseas until 1976 when the government formed Fiji Sugar Marketing Company, Ltd. to handle marketing activities. FSC has its head office in Lautoka.

With farmers wanting more say in their dealings with FSC, the government decided on reforms within the industry. The Sugar Industry Act of 1984 restructured the industry and established three new organizations: the Sugar Commission of Fiji, the Sugar Industry Tribunal and the Sugar Cane Growers Council.

It also established the Mill Area Committees as an advisory body on local sugar matters. The Sugar Commission is the coordinating body, and the Tribunal adjudicates contractual relations between farmers and FSC, as well as any disputes among the parties. The Sugar Cane Growers Council acts on behalf of farmers, and trade unions represent interests of FSC employees.

One of the major functions of the Sugar Industry Tribunal is to establish and regulate master awards controlling contractual relationship between FSC and cane farmers. The master award came into effect on November 23, 1989. It replaced the sugar cane contract. Independent arbitrators who had set the contract terms were Sir Malcolm Eve (later, Lord Silso) and a judge, Lord Denning, both British.

Soon after it took over assets of Colonial Sugar Refining Company, FSC embarked upon expansion of Fiji's milling capacity. The four mills are currently capable of manufacturing more than 500,000 tonnes of sugar per season. Some consideration has been given to increase mill capacity up to 600,000 tonnes a year. Such expansion would require substantial investment.

Under the Seaqaqa cane development scheme, over 5,000 hectares were brought under cane by 1980. This project cost $22 million and accommodated 800 ethnic Fijian and Ind-Fijian farmers. Funds were borrowed from the World Bank to help finance the project.

The government recognizes the problem of being excessively dependent on just one crop. The government has, among other measures, encouraged tourism in an effort to diversify the economy. However, tourism is sensitive to a number of factors, and its contribution to the economy is still less than that of sugar.

List of unrefined sweeteners

This list of unrefined sweeteners includes all natural, unrefined, or low-processed sweeteners.

Sweeteners are usually made from the fruit or sap of plants, but can also be made from any other part of the plant, or all of it. Some sweeteners are made from starch, with the use of enzymes. Sweeteners made by animals, especially insects, are put in their own section as they can come from more than one part of plants.

Peen tong

Peen tong or pian tang (Chinese: 片糖; pinyin: piàntáng; Cantonese Yale: pintòng) and wong tong (Chinese: 黃糖; pinyin: huángtáng; Cantonese Yale: wòngtòng), is a Chinese brown sugar and sugar candy that is used in various Chinese desserts and also consumed alone as a snack. In China, it is sold in slab or brick form in one-pound packages, and occasionally as a bulk food item.

Robert Lustig

Robert H. Lustig (born 1957) is an American pediatric endocrinologist. He is Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where he specializes in neuroendocrinology and childhood obesity. He is also director of UCSF's WATCH program (Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health), and president and co-founder of the non-profit Institute for Responsible Nutrition.Lustig came to public attention in 2009 when one of his medical lectures, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," went viral on YouTube. He is the editor of Obesity Before Birth: Maternal and Prenatal Influences on the Offspring (2010), and author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease (2013).

Sugar industry

The sugar industry subsumes the production, processing and marketing of sugars (mostly saccharose and fructose). Globally, most sugar is extracted from sugar cane (~80 % predominantly in the tropics) and sugar beet (~ 20%, mostly in temperate climate like in the U.S. or Europe).

Sugar is used for soft drinks, sweetened beverages, convenience foods, fast food, candy, confectionery, baked products, and other sweetened foods.

Sugar subsidies have driven market costs for sugar well below the cost of production. As of 2018, 3/4 of world sugar production was not traded on the open market. The global market for sugar and sweeteners was some $77.5 billion in 2012, with sugar comprising an almost 85% share, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 4.6%.Globally in 2018, around 185 million tons of sugar was produced, led by India with 35.9 million tons, followed by Brazil and Thailand. There are more than 123 sugar-producing countries, but only 30% of the produce is traded on the international market.

Sugar industry of the Philippines

In 2005, the Philippines is the ninth largest sugar producer in the world and second largest sugar producer among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, after Thailand, according to Food and Agriculture Organization. At least seventeen provinces of the Philippines have grown sugarcane, of which the two on Negros Island Region account for half of the nation's total production. As of crop year 2009-2010, 29 sugar mills are operational divided as follows: thirteen mills on Negros, six mills on Luzon, four mills on Panay, three mills in Eastern Visayas and three mills on Mindanao.Sugarcane is not a sensitive crop and can be grown in almost all types of soil, from sandy to clay loams and from acidic volcanic soils to calcareous sedimentary deposits. The harvest period is from October to December and ends in May.

In 2015, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts of the Philippines announced that they will include the Industrial Sugar Central Sites of the Philippines and related properties to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Sugar mills in Fiji

Sugar cane grew wild in Fiji and was used as thatch by the Fijians for their houses (bures). The first attempt to make sugar in Fiji was on Wakaya Island in 1862 but this was a financial failure. With the cotton boom of the 1860s there was little incentive to plant a crop that required high capital outlay but after a slump in cotton prices in 1870, the planters turned to sugar. In an effort to promote the production of sugar in Fiji, the Cakobau Government, in December 1871, offered a 500-pound reward for the first and best crop of twenty of sugar from canes planted before January 1873.

The first cane sugar mill in Fiji was built in 1872 by Brewster and Joske at the present site of the city of Suva. By the end of 1874, there were four mills in operation, six by the end of 1875 and ten by the end of 1878. Most of these mills crushed for only a few years and only a few survived the crash in sugar price of 1884. The surviving mills were Navua Sugar Mill, Panang Mill, Holmshurst (Taveuni) and the Rewa Sugar Company (Koronivia).

The arrival of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company led to the establishment of Commercially viable sugar mills. In 1880, Thurston went to Australia seeking investment for Fiji and persuaded the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) to extend its operations to Fiji. The first mill built by the CSR was the Nausori Sugar Mill on the banks of the Rewa River and began crushing in the 1882 crushing season. In 1883, construction began for its second mill in Ba, the Rarawai Mill. Another mill was built at Viria, also on the Rewa River, and crushed from 1886 to 1895. It was closed because it was too small to be viable. In 1890, the Labasa Mill was erected from a dismantled mill in Queensland.

By 1926 all other sugar mills had closed down and the CSR owned the five existing mills in Fiji of which Nausori mill closed down in 1959.

Taiwan Sugar Railways

The Taiwan Sugar Railways (Chinese: 臺灣糖業鐵路) were an extensive series of 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge railways concentrated mostly in southern and central Taiwan which were originally built to haul sugarcane from the fields to the sugar mills, but also capable of providing limited passenger service. Some lines continue to operate as tourist railways.

Ventilago viminalis

Ventilago viminalis, commonly known as Supplejack, Vine Tree or whip vine, is a tree native to Northern and Central Australia from coastal regions of Queensland to the central deserts of the Northern Territory.

The plant begins life as a scrambler, using other trees, shrubs and even grasses for support. As it ages the stem becomes increasingly woody and the plant eventually develops a growth form more typical of a tree. The tree can reach 10 metres in height. Leaves are pendulous, grey-green and lanceolate. Flowers are green to green-white. Flowering season varies depending on rainfall. The fruits shown on the accompanying illustration are misleading as the artist has shown them standing upwards on the branch, while actually they hang downwards.

Australian Aborigines eat the gum from this tree. They scrape it off as it comes through, twisting it onto a stick. It can be chewed like chewing gum. The supplejack in Arrernte is called Atnyerampwe, and the gum is Ngwarle atnyerampwe.

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See also

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