A GROUP of plants long used by First Nations Australians could be a nutritious alternative to salt, according to new research.
University of Queensland PhD candidate Sukirtha Srivarathan from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation said edible halophytes included samphire, seablite, saltbush and seapurslane and had nutritional benefits and bioactive properties.
"They've been used for more than 65,000 years as food - especially during drought - because they grow all year-round," Ms Srivarathan said.
"They're a good source of protein and most of them are a good source of fibre, minerals and trace elements, especially calcium, iron, potassium and zinc, while some also have considerable amounts of folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin C.
"Now we're looking at how we can use these plants in food production."
QAAFI senior research fellow Dr Michael Netzel said the halophytes were a sustainable food source.
"Halophytes have a lot of bioactive compounds, so it's a more sustainable and healthy choice to eat as a salad or side dish," Dr Netzel said.
"It's these little things; if you can replace something with something healthier rather than changing the whole diet, it can have an impact.
"For example, instead of table salt you can use halophytes as a freeze-dried powder condiment."
The research, published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, was conducted through the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods at the request of a Western Australian First Nation community led by Bruno Dann and Marion Manson.
Uncle Bruno said halophytes were a staple food for Nyul Nyul people in the Kimberley region.
"Halophytes were a great mai (bushfood) when we were by the sea, then we would move inland and back again - living seasonally, in the cycles of life and the seasons, going with the land," Uncle Bruno said.
Ms Srivarathan said when her PhD was completed, she aimed to continue to work with the community to get a product into market and plans to co-design a dehydrated halophyte substance.
"There has been high demand in using Indigenous edible halophytes for sustainable food production in the past few years, so this scientific profile will be a great help," she said.