UP culinary arts students impress guests with dishes made from indigenous and orphan crops

Posted on June 07, 2024

University of Pretoria (UP) students from the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences recently hosted an innovative culinary experience for food and plant enthusiasts, friends and colleagues who had gathered at the University’s Future Africa Institute.

The Indigenous and Orphan Crops Dinner was held in collaboration with the Future Africa Indigenous and Orphan Crops Collection of the Manie van der Schijff Botanical Garden and the Botanical Society of South Africa, and featured innovative dishes that contribute significantly to enhancing the genetic diversity of the food system.

For the event, which was part of their fourth-year B Consumer Science and Event Management exam outcomes, the Culinary Arts students sourced ingredients from the gardens at the Future Africa Institute and those on Hatfield campus in partnership with the team that oversees the indigenous and orphan crops collection.

Foraging, harvesting and sourcing indigenous and orphan crops present obvious difficulties as these varieties are not readily found in commercial markets and instead found in the wild or gardens like the ones at UP. After obtaining the crops, the students were tasked with integrating them into menus, a process that involved various factors, from storage, pre-preparation and cooking to exploring sensory elements like unfamiliar tastes, flavours and textures. These aspects required thorough consideration to guarantee a satisfying dining experience and sensory journey.

When attendees were not taking pictures, they were engaged in lively conversations, exchanging questions about the recipes and discovering edible possibilities from unfamiliar crops.

The event aligned with Culinary Arts lecturer Dr Hennie Fisher’s call to celebrate and utilise indigenous and orphan crops, especially within the hospitality sector. Dr Fisher supervised the students as they dazzled guests with dishes that were both delicious and visually appealing.

“The global food system is heavily reliant on very few species, with just six of the world’s 400 000 plant species accounting for 57% of the 9.5 billion tonnes of primary crop production in 2021,” Dr Fisher said. “This reliance on a few key species leaves the food system vulnerable to environmental shocks and outbreaks of disease, both of which are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity in the near future as a result of anthropogenic climate change.

“By adding more indigenous and orphan crops to plates, the genetic diversity of the food system is increased, thereby building resilience to external stresses, as many of these unique plant species are well adapted to local (often adverse) conditions and pests. In addition, the inclusion of nutrient-dense indigenous and orphan crops offers opportunities for addressing ‘hidden hunger’ as well as reinforcing and, in many cases, rebuilding cultural and social connections with the food system.”

Hospitality Management student and kitchen manager Tamara Nwaokoye stressed the need for a comprehensive approach to handling indigenous and orphan crops. Other than sourcing ingredients, students needed to understand and apply the unique culinary characteristics of various crops, considering sensory complexities like those presented by num-num fruit, broom cluster figs, Cape Ash berries, waterberries, marula, raisin-tree fruit and others. Logistical challenges concerning kitchen infrastructure and equipment also had to be addressed, and extensive recipe testing was vital to determine the specialised processing and cooking methods or equipment needed for the ingredients. Additionally, attention was given to accommodating dietary restrictions and allergies so that all the guests could fully enjoy the dining experience.

“It took some time to work out the tastes and other important aspects, but we pulled it off in the end,” said student Andiswa Zondi. “I’m proud because this was also an opportunity to showcase teamwork. As fourth-year hospitality students responsible for the event, we received support from students studying food retail management, and consumer and food sciences. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster since the planning phase, but we were thrilled to see our friends, families and lecturers so proud of us.”

“I feel amazing about all this food going out and the research being done to raise awareness about indigenous and orphan crops,” student Bianca Boshoff added. “I received numerous questions and could share many culinary techniques. It was a bit stressful, especially when we were running around during the dinner, but I felt proud and relieved when it was over and we weren’t cleaning the kitchen. We’re happy.”


Pelargonium (Pelargonium graveolens) and rose-apple (Syzygium jambos) drink

Chinese water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) and lowveld chestnut (Sterculia murex) bread; African moringa (Moringa stenopetala) bread served with lemon and orange citrus butter, bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea) hummus, ginger-rosemary oil (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Ginger’) and spekboom (Portulacaria afra) pesto

Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) soup with wild garlic (Tulbaghia hybrid), crème fraiche and roasted marula (Sclerocarya birrea) nuts

Syzygium sorbets: Waterberry (Syzygium cordatum), woodland waterberry (Syzygium guineense) and brush cherry (Syzygium paniculatum)

Slow braised beef brisket with crab-apple (Malus sylvestris) jelly served with morogo (Galinsoga parviflora and Bidens pilosa) timbale, kale (Brassica oleracea) and Strelitzia kimchi (Strelitzia reginae), and taro (Colocasia esculenta) mash

Num-num (Carissa macrocarpa) and Cape ash (Ekebergia capensis) malva pudding with Mondia (Mondia whitei) ice cream and carob (Ceratonia siliqua) chocolate sauce


To learn more about the individual plants, a series of posts detailing the species used in the dinner will be published on the Future Africa Indigenous and Orphan Crops Collection page on various social media platforms:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FutureAfricaGarden/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/FutureAfricaGarden/

X: https://x.com/futureafricaioc

For more on the Botanical Society of South Africa or to get involved in their projects and events, email [email protected] or visit https://botanicalsociety.org.za/

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