Tropical rainforest fruits are a bit of a novelty even within 100 miles of Cairns ‘where the rainforest meets the reef’, but a number of companies within the area are looking to change this.
Rainforest Heart bush orchard is the latest company in the area to investigate ways to utilise ancient, wet tropics species of fruit such as Davidson’s plums, Lemon Aspens and Lillypillies. Founded by Margo Watkins and her life partner Peter, Rainforest Heart focuses on producing fruit powders, tea and spice blends from their own orchards at Mungalli near Millaa Millaa on the Atherton Tablelands.
For those wondering about location, Margo and Peter are only three kilometres from the famous Mungalli Creek Dairy.
Whilst the couple have been growing rainforest fruits since 2001 Margo says, “The whole business model has been a work in progress. We were initially involved in the more traditional fruit condiment market from 2009 to 2014 using rainforest fruits as ingredients. The business grew to regularly supply 40 retail outlets between Cairns and Melbourne but, Peter and I felt it just wasn’t sustainable. Glass jars, high freight costs, distance from Southern markets and high production costs in general, all contributed to the business’s struggling profitability”.
2015 saw the couple researching better ways to do business and with the increasing consumer interest in low sugar products and pursuing the health benefits of native fruits, the couple saw an opportunity. Peter says, “We needed the product to be light weight, shelf stable and to be as close to a pure fruit product as possible”.
Whilst using rainforest fruits instead of mainstream commercial fruit varieties is innovative in itself, the couple have also transformed the value adding side of production. The partners have come up with a process to pulp, dry and mill the fruits into a powdered format. Margo says, “Throughout the drying and milling process we retain the colour, natural flavour and health properties of the fruits. The versatile pure flavour powders contain no artificial colours or additives and are created for a competitive cost right here on the Atherton Tablelands”.
Producing the ‘powdered fruit’ product has placed the company squarely into the functional foods market. For those unfamiliar with ‘functional foods’, these are foods which potentially have a positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. For example a little known fact about Australian rainforest fruits such as the Davidson plum is they have three times the antioxidants of the famed blueberry.
One of Rainforest Hearts’ signature and award winning products uses the dried Davidson’s plum powder as a fruit tea infusion. Margo says, “It’s all about choice for the consumer. It’s sold to be consumed with no sweeteners and is being readily adopted by health conscious consumers”.
Apart from the tea infusion Margo and Peter have also created a range of dukkas and rubs made from various combinations of Davidson plum, lemon myrtle, lemon aspen, macadamia nuts and chillies. All of which (like their tea infusion) scored medals in the 2016 Australian Food Awards conducted by ‘The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV).
Margo says, “The awards were a great recognition of all of the hard work Peter and I have put into the orchard and creating our products, but ultimately for us it’s about the sustainability of our property and producing something flavoursome with health benefits to the consumer. We are proud of the fact that we are farming fruits which are native to our landscape and the value added products we offer are a healthy option for consumers”.
“To us that is more important than any award”.
Margo and Peter offer farm tours by appointment, click here to visit their website Rainforest Heart.