LAST week only one of my five local butchers could sell me kangaroo. And that was frozen, not fresh. One said he occasionally got it in if people requested it. Another directed me to a butcher several suburbs away. Another said he didn’t sell roo because they moved too fast and he couldn’t catch them.
The only roo meat I could buy fresh within five kilometres of home was at a Coles supermarket. Supplied by South Australian game meat wholesaler Macro Meats, it was packed like any other supermarket meat. The difference was the spiel written on the back of the container.
It detailed the health and environmental advantages of eating kangaroo meat, including the fact that kangaroos produce lower levels of greenhouse gases than cattle and sheep.
In Professor Ross Garnaut’s final report on tackling climate change, he said that the carbon benefits of eating kangaroo meat could be one of Australia’s great contributions to the global problem.
But it would seem that producers believe consumers are reluctant to eat kangaroo and need to be convinced otherwise. Could it be the “skippy syndrome” – a dread of munching on a national emblem? Or a lasting stigma from the days when roo was considered dirty and only fit for pet food? Regardless, there’s no doubt kangaroo as a food continues to battle an image problem in some quarters.
Interesting then that, according to recent government figures, roo meat is experiencing steady growth. A national report, Consumer Attitudes to Kangaroo Meat Products by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, released in February, found that 58.5% of respondents had tried kangaroo meat and that men were more likely to consume it than women. Sales of roo meat through Coles have increased by 9% over the past financial year.
It’s largely home cooks who are driving the boom.
Paula Mauriks runs Auscroc, a game meat wholesaler based in Melbourne. When she started the business 10 years ago, kangaroo made up a tiny proportion of her business. But five years later it started to take off, and in the past 18 months Mauriks says sales have tripled, mainly due to roo’s popularity in home kitchens.
“We used to sell more to restaurants, but now wholesale has taken over as the biggest market,” she says. “New butchers, chicken shops and other specialist meat retailers are coming to us all the time looking to source kangaroo meat.”
Mauriks believes people’s increased willingness to try new foods has contributed to improved sales for kangaroo meat products.
“Most people know by now that kangaroo is low in fat and high in iron, and quite a few of those are willing to see if they like the taste,” she says. “Then it becomes a matter of educating people how best to cook it so they enjoy it and come back for more.”
Kangaroo Cookin’ (Wakefield Press), a cookbook comprised solely of recipes using kangaroo meat, was the first kangaroo cookbook. From soups and pastas to char grills, stir-fries and one-pot dishes, the 88 recipes in this deliberately down-to-earth book illustrate the versatility of this often-underrated meat.
Gary Hunt and his wife Janine have been selling kangaroo meat from the Chicken Pantry at Queen Victoria Market for almost 12 years. Their pepper-marinated kangaroo has always been the strongest seller in their roo range, but in the past couple of years other products and cuts have started to take off.
“We’ve noticed lots of people buying kangaroo who are advised by their doctors to lower their fat intake or increase their levels of iron,” says Hunt. “Many more women are buying it these days.”
Mornington Peninsula butcher Greg Goss, from Greg’s Family Gourmet Butchers, has been selling meat for more than 40 years and has noticed the recent interest in kangaroo meat.
“Two years ago we did well to sell 5 kilos in a month,” he says. “Now we’re probably selling 100 kilos in that same time.”
Goss sees sales of roo meat increase in spring, summer and autumn, and spike as fine weekends loom, which he puts down to the lure of outdoor cooking.
“Kangaroo comes up beautifully on the barbie,” he says, “seared on the outside and pink on the inside.”
Here’s hoping some of my local butchers read the market too, and order in some fresh for this weekend.