Quandong

24.05.17

There are three types of native fruit referred to as quandong but only one species is edible and has potential as a commercial enterprise. This species, Santalum acumination, is generally referred to as quandong, but has many other common names including desert quandong, sweet quandong, native peach, wild peach, desert peach, guwandhuna, gutchu, goorti, katunga and mangata. It grows in arid and semi-arid regions of most states of Australia.

Overview

Another Santalum sp. also referred to as quandong is bitter quandong (S. murrayanum), which grows in mallee and woodland environments. The tree is similar to S. acumination but the fruit is very bitter. The third is the blue quandong (Elaeocarpus grandis), also called silver quandong, brush quandong, blue fig and coolan. It mainly grows beside streams and in dense coastal and mountainous rainforests. The fruit is blue, sour and insipid in taste.

The quandong (S. acumination) belongs to the Santalaceae family, which also includes sandalwood (Santalum spp.) and native cherries (Exocarpos spp.). Most plants of this family are hemiparasitic, which means they rely on host plants for water and soil nutrients, but not for sugars. In a natural situation, Santalum spp. seem to rely on nitrogen fixing trees such as Acacia spp. and Casuarina spp. though it’s known to parasitise many other legumes, shrubs, herbs and grasses. Quandong normally has more than one host at a time.

The tree can vary in height from one to six metres. The leaves are 3–9cm, long and narrow, typically eucalypt shaped, and olive green in colour. Tiny flowers appear on summer, forming fruit that ripen in the following spring. The mature fruit is round, 15–25mm wide with shiny red skin. The flesh is 3–5mm thick, yellow to red in colour, dry-textured and tart-tasting.

The fruit has long been an important food of Indigenous Australians, and it was a welcome addition to the diets of European settlers. Commercially harvested or cultivated quandongs are mostly used to make preserves and sauces, and to a lesser extent, pie filling, cordial and liqueur.

The development of commercial cultivars by CSIRO commenced in 1973 and during the 1990s and 2000s, the commercial prospects for quandong were very promising. However, the millennium drought had a significant negative impact on many established orchards, as have pests and diseases. The quandong-host relationship has proved difficult to manage in cultivated conditions through the drought, which has resulted in a smaller than expected industry situation.

The Australian Native Food & Botanicals (ANFAB) is the peak body for the Australian native food industry. The Australian Quandong Industry Association formed in 1992 to help guide the development of the industry, but it is no longer operational.

Facts and figures

  • Quandong fruit is mainly traded frozen or dried, and is used in preserves, sauces and desserts; to a lesser extent, fresh fruit is used in the restaurant trade
  • The quandong is a hemiparasitic plant, and performs best when planted in association with other grasses, shrubs or trees—the host plant offers a second opportunity for a crop within the orchard
  • The tree generally grows to about 3–4 metres and produces a commercial quantity of fruit four years after planting
  • There has been a significant decline commercial production since 2000, due to drought, quandong die-back, quandong moth, poor establishment and difficulties managing the host-plant relationship
  • The industry suffers from inconsistent quality and quantity of production from season to season, making it difficult to establish a premium-grade fruit market; but can deliver easily to the lower priced market of processing-grade fruit

Production status

Accurate information is not readily available for the native foods industry but a 2012 stocktake of the industry provides good estimates of industry characteristics, production figures and product value.

Production peaked in around 2000, with 25 tonnes being harvested. About one third of this came from 26,000 trees in cultivated trees and the remainder from the wild. This has significantly decreased. About 90% of production comes from commercial plantations, and the rest is wild harvested.

There are 25 commercial growers in Australia, several with large orchards of more than 1000 trees, but most with less than 500 trees.

A quandong enterprise is typically part of a larger farming operation or a ‘weekend’ enterprise. Sometimes the quandongs are hosted on plants that are also productive (e.g. acacia producing wattle seeds) and many growers value-add on site.

Uses

Quandongs have been a food source for Indigenous Australians for thousands of years, as a fresh or dried fruit, the latter keeping for up to eight years. The kernels of the nut can also be eaten, however they have a flavour range from sweet and almond-like to unpleasant and so are not commonly used.

Quandong was an important food source for European settlers, and it is recorded that explorers Charles Sturt and John Stuart would probably have died of scurvy in central Australia, had they not eaten wild fruits, including quandong on their expeditions. Early settlers used quandong fruit in jams, pies and jellies, and also dried the fruit for future use.

Since the 1970s, quandong has been used in restaurants specialising in wild or native ingredients, and included in commercial lines of jams, preserves, sauces, relishes, juices, desserts and ice cream. The fruit is generally supplied to the market as whole dried fruit or as halved, deseeded frozen fruit.

The taste is described as slightly sour and salty, with sweetness varying greatly between trees. The fruit is dry textured and the aroma has been described as similar to dry lentils or beans, with some earthy fermented notes.

For each 100 grams dry weight of fruit, quandong has significantly higher antioxidant capacity to blueberry; comparable levels of vitamin E to avocado; 50% of the recommended daily intake of folate, and it is a rich source of magnesium, zinc and iron. Quandong fruit is superior to blueberry for many compounds, and has potential for use in creating products with possible health-enhancing properties.

A number of research projects have been conducted to understand and investigate the properties of quandong, and other native foods, including, health benefits and health-enhancing compounds in native foodsphysiological activities of native foodsfunctional properties and defining the flavours of native foods.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Commercial plantings of quandong are largely in regions where the plant is already endemic. Most commercial plantations are in South Australia, in areas south of the Flinders Ranges, in the Riverland and on the Eyre and Yorke peninsulas. Indigenous desert communities have established plantations in the centre and far north-west of the state, and on the Eyre Peninsula. Orchards have been planted near Broken Hill, New South Wales, and there are plantations in the Wimmera and Sunraysia regions of Victoria. Several small plantations have also been established in the Northern Territory, near Alice Springs.

Soil type

Quandong is found in a wide variety of environments, growing in a range of soil types of varying texture and soil pH. Generally, the soils are nutrient poor and free draining. The quandong plant will not tolerate waterlogging and is susceptible to root diseases in such conditions, suggesting lighter textured soils are better suited to quandong production.

Climate

The quandong grows naturally in arid and semi-arid climates that receive less than 400mm of annual rainfall. Irrigation can be used to enhance production but must be managed carefully to avoid waterlogging.

Quandongs require high light intensity and low relative humidity, and are well suited to Mediterranean climates with dry summers and cool wet winters. They are tolerant of frost.

Varieties

Development of varieties for commercial production began in the 1970s with CSIRO assessing lines from wild seed. Fifteen were selected and propagated for commercial development, however, quandong seedlings are no longer commercially propagated.

Two varieties were selected and propagated by pioneer quandong producers – Powells No.1 and Frahns Paringa Gem.

Many orchards were established from seedlings raised from wild-collected seed, hence there is significant variability in tree yield and the colour, size and taste of fruit. There has been some success establishing grafted material but the industry view is that improved grafting techniques are required in order for existing and new cultivars to be planted in sufficient numbers to ensure large volumes of consistent and premium quality fruit.

Information on suppliers of planting stock is not readily available. Prospective quandong producers will have to undertake considerable research to determine the best stock for planting, (seedlings or grafted plants) source plant material and specialist nurseries to propagate planting stock.

Detailed instructions on propagation of quandongs are provided on the website of Australian Native Plants Society.

Quandong is a cross-pollinating species, so different varieties need to be planted in the same orchard to ensure fruit set.

Planting and crop management

Some quandong orchards have been established without host plants, however research and observation indicate tree growth is better with a host. Host species that have been commonly used in plantings include species of MyoporumAcaciaMelaleuca, Atriplex (saltbush), kikuyu grass, clovers and prostrate lucerne. If a host species is not planted with quandong, the trees may parasitise adjacent grasses, shrubs or even trees in windbreaks. The roots of the quandong tree can spread about 10 metres. It is recommended that the host plant be established at least one year prior to planting or direct seeding of the quandong.

The requirement for a host plant offers a second opportunity for a crop within the orchard, for example wattleseed or sandalwood are commonly used. After the quandong attaches to a host of significant size, the management of the orchard should be based on the requirements of the host plant.

Several factors influence planting design, including machinery access, variety and expected growth rates. Closer spacings will achieve maximum canopy area, and thus maximum yields earlier in the planting’s life, however wider plantings will cost less to establish but longer to achieve maximum canopy development and yields. Commonly, orchards are established on row spacings of 4–6m and between-tree spacings of 2–4m. A ratio of pollinator trees to clonal trees of one to eight is recommended.

Quandongs can be difficult to establish. Minimal root disturbance and damage at planting is essential, as well as providing immediate irrigation. Prior to attachment to the hosts, frequent irrigation (without waterlogging) is required as young trees are prone to desiccation. Over the first 12 months, the trees may require protection from sun, wind and vertebrate pests. Best results have been achieved when planting occurs in early spring.

Training and pruning of quandong trees should be early and light to improve tree structure and attain the desired tree shape.

A good account of the establishment of a small orchard near Broken Hill in New South Wales is given in the paper, Lynray quandong (Santalum acuminatum) orchard establishment.

Detailed production information is available in the factsheet Quandong production.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

Problem weeds must be controlled prior to planting, as future weed management of the orchard will be governed by the host plants of the quandongs and chemical and mechanical means of weed control could be detrimental to the hosts.

The quandong moth (Paraepermenia santaliella) is the most significant pest of cultivated fruit, with the larvae of the moth reducing fruit set and later-hatched larvae damaging the fruit and downgrading quality. There is currently no chemical means of control — in the past the moth was controlled with dimethoate, which is no longer permitted.

There are several other minor pests of quandong — foliage-eating caterpillars, sap-sucking insects, scale insects and mites — commonly due to waterlogging or to root rotting diseases (such as Phytophthora spp. or Pythium spp. ) or a combination of both. Treatment of plants in nurseries with phosphorous acid appears to improve survival.

Detailed information on pests and diseases is available in the factsheet Quandong production.

Infrastructure Requirements

A quandong orchard needs to be fenced to protect it from grazing animals and a ready water supply and irrigation equipment (pumps, pipes and sprinklers) is needed to irrigate seedlings during establishment, and potentially when the trees mature.

Typical orchard machinery and equipment is required for management and maintenance and may include:

  • tractor
  • irrigation system
  • spray equipment with separate spray units for pesticides and herbicides
  • slasher or mower
  • trailer and farm vehicle
  • farm shed
  • equipment for manual harvest (ladders, secateurs, bins)
  • grading table (manual process)
  • knives or cutting machine for halving fruit
  • freezer or vacuum packaging for fresh fruit
  • drying facilities, racks for sun drying or ovens for fan drying for dried fruit
  • food-grade cooking, packaging and storage facilities if value-adding
  • pruning equipment.

Harvesting & Processing

Harvestable quantities of fruit are produced about four years after planting. A medium-yield of cut and dried fruit may range from about 0.25kg in year four to around 8.25kg in year 15.

Quandongs flower from later summer into early autumn. The fruit changes colour from green to red in late winter and harvest usually occurs during spring. Ripening may occur over several weeks, requiring multiple harvests.

All quandongs are generally harvested manually but there is potential to harvest using tree shakers, as for olives and nut crops. Individual fruit may be picked by hand or ripe fruit may be knocked, so they fall onto ground sheets.

Residual pest infestations can be eliminated by heating the harvested quandong fruit at 60°C for 30 minutes.

Fruit may be sold whole, therefore requiring no further processing. More commonly, the fruit is de-stoned and halved on manual or automatic cutting machines based on technology developed for the apricot industry.

The fruit is either fresh vacuumed packed and frozen (at -20°C for up to 24 months), sun dried (for three days) or oven dried (at 50°C for several hours) to about a third of its fresh weight. Quandong fruit has low moisture content relative to other fruits, so drying is a relatively simple process.

Many growers value-add by processing the fruit into a range of products such as preserves, sauces and liqueur.

Markets & Marketing

Premium grade quandong fruit is undersupplied and manufacturing grade is oversupplied. However, the native food industry stocktake reported that industry participants believe there is potential for future increase in demand, particularly international markets, if premium quality fruit can be produced on a consistent basis.

Many growers value-add on farm, producing a range of products for sale online, at food service and tourist outlets, or via distributors. However the main market for fruit is dried or frozen product being sold to native food processors who manufacture products and market under their own label. Although the fresh fruit is visually appealing, there is virtually no market for the product to be consumed as fresh fruit.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

The quandong industry has suffered from the millennium drought and pests and diseases. Survival rates of new plants has been low and producers have struggled to successfully manage the quandong–host relationship in cultivated conditions.

Access to planting material appears difficult, and well developed horticultural skills may be necessary to successfully manage the production of planting stock, as well as the hemiparasitic nature of quandong.

In addition to specific production challenges, prospective quandong producers face the general challenges common to native food producers and the industry, such as annual variation in production volume and maintaining a consistent quality and supply of product to customers. Integrated industry development is required to overcome the risks of concurrent oversupply of niche markets and undersupply of potential large-scale markets. Without an industry organisation to provide communication, coordination and connection, individual producers may find it difficult to develop ongoing, reliable markets for their fruit.

The industry identifies the need for more investment in the selection of varieties, the development of grafting techniques as the main issues to be addressed to enable more consistent production volumes and quality to attract consumers of premium-grade product (which is currently undersupplied to the market).

Regulatory considerations

The standard regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements and the loading/unloading of harvested product), will also apply to quandong producers.

Depending on jurisdiction, wild harvest of quandong may require a licence from state government departments or similar.

Quandongs are classified by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) as a traditional food of Australia and it is included in the FSANZ nutrient tables. Quandong is accepted by the European Union as condiment pepper, and as such is listed under the Codex Alimentarius system, which is required to import food products into Europe.

Certification by organisations such as Freshcare and HACCP may be required to sell product to supermarkets, major retailers and food service industries. Prospective growers should speak with potential customers to fully understand any product certification requirements. When processing any raw product and value-adding, consideration should be given to food standards regulations, as administered by FSANZ and set out in Chapter 3 of its Food Standards Code.

Publications

Publications/information

Focus on Quandong RIRDC Fact Sheet (2014)

Quandong on the website of Australian Native Food & Botanicals

The quandong chapter in The New Crop Industries Handbook – Native Foods RIRDC (2008)

Australian Native Food Industry Stocktake RIRDC (2012)

Quandong production Factsheet 350/20, Primary Industries and Resources, South Australia (2001)

Bonney, N. (2013). Jewel of the Australian Desert. Native Peach (quandong).

Other resources

Australian Bushfoods a website of information about Australian native foods, also holds back copies of the Australian Bushfoods magazine

Image Gallery

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Quandong Tree

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Quandong Orchard

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Quandong fruit

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Quandong fruit on tree

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