Kangaroo meat was consumed by the Indigenous people when they landed on the Australian continent some 40,000 years ago. For many years it was used in pet foods, but the recent years have seen kangaroo meat pop up on the menus at a range of venues, in Australia and abroad, championed by chefs as a delicious and environmentally-friendly alternative to beef.
The kangaroo is found in Australia where it is a protected native animal. It is also the national symbol of the sunburnt country; it is one half of the animal-duo on the national Coat of Arms. So how did the kangaroo turn up at fine dining restaurants, in burgers, and in supermarket aisles of the country packaged as red meat alongside beef, pork and lamb?
It was only in 1993 that most Australian states legalised kangaroo meat for human consumption, South Australia being the first to do so in 1980. The harvest, processing and export of kangaroo meat remains highly regulated by the Australian Government, whose official figures place over 3,000 tonnes of kangaroo meat in annual exports to more than 60 countries. “The EU is currently the most important export market”, said a spokesperson for the Australian Government Department of Agriculture to FDL.
Amongst the various kangaroo species in Australia, four are approved for harvest and export: the Red, Eastern Grey and Western Grey Kangaroos, and the Common Wallaroo (a species that is intermediate in size between the kangaroo and wallaby). Official quotas set by the Government are based on regularly monitored kangaroo populations and restrict the number of kangaroos culled for commercial purposes. It is estimated that around 3% of Australia’s harvestable kangaroo population is used for meat production each year.
Australia is a divided nation when it comes to the culling of kangaroos, and eating roo meat still comes with the stigma of eating a national emblem. Not to mention the problem many Australians generally have with eating ‘Skippy’ the TV pet kangaroo that so many grew up with. And despite official Government regulations, the commercial culling of kangaroo still comes with many opposing voices from animal rights activists.
But this hasn’t stopped some of the nation’s top chefs in using kangaroo meat at their award-winning restaurants. At Orana, Australia’s Best Restaurant in 2019 by Australia’s Good Food Guide Awards, chef Jock Zonfrillo serves a kangaroo tail soup combined with other local ingredients such as kingfish and Australian botanicals. Zonfrillo is not just any chef experimenting with this not-yet-widely-accepted red meat, he is acknowledged worldwide as a leading figure in the protection of the culinary culture of indigenous Australia. His not-for-profit Orana Foundation has so far amassed a database of over 2000 indigenous ingredients in Australia, work Zonfrillo has dedicated his past 17 years to, and was behind his Basque Culinary World Prize 2018 win.
Also a crusader of native Australian ingredients, celebrated chef Kylie Kwong has for many years served wallaby - the smaller cousin of the kangaroo - at her long-running Sydney institution Billy Kwong.
Iconic Australian chef Neil Perry on the other hand, championed the roo at the gathering of the restaurant industry’s superstars, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants the awards ceremony in 2017, serving kangaroo alongside beef and tuna at the official dinner of the event.
Taste and Nutritional Value of Kangaroo Meat
Kangaroo meat has a stronger flavour than commercially raised meats, but is similar to lean beef. It is a lean red meat high in iron, protein, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, whilst being low in fat (around 2%). Studies have shown that in addition to these nutritional qualities, kangaroo meat contains a high concentration of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) - a type of omega-6 fatty acid - compared with other foods.