Tableland farmer's gluten free flour an Australian first
IN an Australian first, Mt Uncle banana and avocado farmer Robert Watkins has developed a nutrient-rich, gluten-free flour made from the pulp of lady finger bananas.
Mr Watkins’ discovery is likely to be welcomed by the Far North’s $360 million a year banana industry.
The region’s banana farmers have endured a difficult stretch, with many of the region’s growers devastated by cyclone Yasi as well as spiralling transport and labour costs.
Banana prices dropped to record lows in April, with cartons of the fruit going for as little as $2, while oversupply and low demand saw the price fall to $1.29kg at supermarkets.
About 70 per cent of Australia’s bananas come from North Queensland, with local growers, such as Walkamin farmer Dennis Howe putting out about 20,000 crates of bananas each week.
Mr Watkins knows you have to grow ideas as well as bananas to survive.
"I’m a bit gluten-intolerant, and I was woken up one morning at 3am like a lightning bolt with this idea to make flour out of bananas," he said.
He spent the next year tinkering with the formula in his garage until the product was ready to test in the kitchen.
"I’ve used it to make bread, cakes, pancakes, pasta – everything," he said.
"And unlike other 100 per cent gluten-free flours, it tastes really good and you don’t need to buy four different flours to make the bread rise."
During last year’s wet season, which included record rain in October, Mr Watkins bristled at the thought of throwing away tonnes of fruit.
"I said, ‘This is not what we’re about; chucking out beautiful fruit’ because it was just wastefulness at its worst."
So he started to think of other ways to use bananas that would otherwise end up on the scrap heap.
"Once you get kicked in the guts enough times, you just get up and keep thinking of ways to stay up," he said.
The second-generation farmer is no stranger to innovation – in 2009 he trademarked the Banana Blankey, which changed the way fruit from his 232ha Tableland farm was transported to market.
Mr Watkins and wife, Krista, hope to produce commercial-scale batches of the flour within a year.
The flour is made entirely on the Watkins’ farm, using green lady finger bananas chosen over other varieties because of their high starch content.
"Being a resistant starch, the flour’s full of properties that are very important for the body – it helps with digestion and keeps you feeling fuller for longer," Mr Watkins said.
NEW CAIRNS.COM.AU COMMENT POLICY
We welcome your comments on this story. Comments are submitted for possible publication on the condition that they may be edited. Comments submitted without a full name and suburb/location will not be considered for publication. Please read our full comment policy and publication guidelines.
Share this article
Growing ideas: Tableland banana and avocado farmer Robert Watkins has developed a flour out of the pulp of bananas. Picture: MARC McCORMACK