A hardy shrub with pale yellow - green leaves and an unabated resilience!
The plant is also known by other names like bush raisin, bush tomato, and bush sultana. The wild plant fruits only for two months. But for commercial cultivation, the period is extended using irrigation.
The aboriginal communities of Australia like the Amata and Mimili community, Dinahline community, Nepabunna community, and Tangglun Pitlengi Yungi farm community are involved in the commercial cultivation of kutjera.
Hardy and fast growing:
First described by J.M Black in 1934, Kutreja is indigenous to the deserts of Central Australia. The plant is hardy and fast-growing. Moist soil is needed for germination but the water requirement is low. Smoke treatment is done before germination i.e. the sown seed is covered with smoke vermiculite and watered. This facilitates faster germination.
A lavender bloom:
The highly tolerant plant bears purple flowers from late summer to spring followed by edible fruits of small size. The fruits are yellow when ripe and turn brown on drying, hence resembling raisins on the bush itself.The unripe fruits are green and toxic.
A resilient nature:
The plant can also regrow from the dormant rootstock after periods of drought. The roots resprout as soon as they get wet. It is quite common in Australia’s arid regions on the roadside. One can find piles of sand covered into the bush tomato shoots after rains beside the graded roads.
Ice-berg like growth:
The plant tends to expand in many directions. The seed plant on getting ample rain expands through roots and grows parallel to the surface. Often, a new shoot is produced with such an expansion. Thus, the plant might appear small on the surface but spans dozens of meters through its hardy underground connections. The largest confirmed single plant is about one-quarter of a hectare! It is well known for its vigorous growth even after a disturbance like a drought.
Kutjera and the culinary delights:
Found either whole or as a pre-ground powder, kutjera is extensively used in food. Ground kutjera finds its application in cooking as a bedding material for meat items. The distinct caramel taste with a spicy tinge makes it perfect as a meat crust.
Chopped kutjera is used in curries and salsas. It is also used in condiments and sauces owing to its taste of tamarillo and caramel. Whole bush tomatoes are added to soups.
Freezing increases the shelf life of kutjera and is quite effective in controlling blood sugar levels. Owing to the high vitamin C content, kutjera is an immunity booster.
However, lack of proper storage could damage the fruit for consumption. They must be stored in a cool and shady place, away from heat and moisture. Moisture could cause mould growth on the fruit.
The fruit tastes bitter if it is spoiled. The best way to store the fruit is to refrigerate it.
The caramel taste of kutjera will then continue to delight us for a longer duration!