Large starchy textured nuts with a tough woody casing from the cone of the huge Bunya pine tree that is native to New South Wales and Queensland.
Araucaria bidwillii, the bunya pine, is a large evergreen coniferous tree in the plant family Araucariaceae. It is found naturally in south-east Queensland Australia and two small disjunct populations in north eastern Queensland’s World Heritage listed Wet Tropics. There are many fine old planted specimens in New South Wales, and around the Perth, Western Australia metropolitan area. They can grow up to 30–45 m.
The Bunya Pine is the last surviving species of the Section Bunya of the genus Araucaria. This section was diverse and widespread during the Mesozoic with some species having cone morphology similar to A. bidwillii, which appeared during the Jurassic. Fossils of Section Bunya are found in South America and Europe. The scientific name honors the botanist John Carne Bidwill, who sent the first specimens to Sir William Hooker in 1843.
The seeds are encased in a hard shell, which grows within the petals of the tree’s extremely large ‘pine cone’. The nuts are similar to pignoli, or pine nuts, harvested from another specific evergreen from northern Italy, known primarily for its seeds.
Indigenous Australians eat the nut of the bunya tree both raw and cooked (roasted, and in more recent times boiled), and also in its immature form. Traditionally, the nuts were additionally ground and made into a paste, which was eaten directly or cooked in hot coals to make bread. The nuts were also stored in the mud of running creeks, and eaten in a fermented state. This was considered a delicacy.
Apart from consuming the nuts, Indigenous Australians ate bunya shoots, and utilized the tree’s bark as kindling.
Bunya nuts are still sold as a regular food item in grocery stalls and street-side stalls around rural southern Queensland. Some farmers in the Wide Bay/ Sunshine Coast regions have experimented with growing bunya trees commercially for their nuts and timber.
Since the mid-1990s, the Australian company Maton has used bunya for the soundboards of its BG808CL Performer acoustic guitars. The Cole Clark company (also Australian) uses bunya for the majority of its acoustic guitar soundboards. The timber is valued by cabinet makers and woodworkers, and has been used for that purpose for over a century.
However its most popular use is as a ‘bushfood’ by indigenous foods enthusiasts. A huge variety of home-invented recipes now exists for the bunya nut; from pancakes, biscuits and breads, to casseroles, to ‘bunya nut pesto’ or hummus. The nut is considered nutritious, with a unique flavor similar to starchy potato and chestnut. The nutritional content of the bunya nut is: 40% water, 40% complex carbohydrates, 9% protein, 2% fat, 0.2% potassium, 0.06% magnesium. It is also gluten free, making bunya nut flour a substitute for people with gluten intolerance.