From the whenua to food – Nuka
Jan 27

From the whenua to food – Nuka

Dr Kiri Dell had always dreamed of a way to utilise her skill and expertise to bring value back to her whānau.

By combining a deep love and appreciation for the whenua with a technological twist, she’s doing just that with start-up Nuka, utilising the abundant kānuka with its unique fragrance that grows wild on her ancestral lands in Tai Rāwhiti/East Coast.

With the support of whānau, iwi and a wider support network, Dr Dell and her Auckland University colleague, Chemical and Materials Engineer Associate Professor Saeid Baroutian, worked together to capture the hidden flavours of kānuka in a liquid smoke. From there, the pair refined and experimented with the process at the university before moving production to The FoodBowl in Auckland.

A food flavouring ingredient, the liquid smoke adds an instant hāngī taste to your kai and acts as both an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent, helping to preserve and extend the shelf life of treated products.

Utilising the food-grade facilities of The FoodBowl enabled the Nuka team to be supported in setting up a pilot scale smoke extract process without a significant outlay of operational capital. They were also able to further test and prove their concepts at a larger scale.

The next step is to scale up further by building a larger machine to produce their product in Ruatōria in their own manufacturing plant. Dr Dell says that without an open-access space like The FoodBowl, she is not sure how Nuka would have bridged the gap between R&D at the university to then moving into their own plant.

With proof of concept achieved, the first batch of liquid smoke sold-out and plans underway for increased production, the Nuka team are working on two other high value products from kānuka; So watch this space.

“It’s produced by fast pyrolysis – a process in which kānuka wood chips are rapidly heated to 400 – 500 °C in the absence of air to be thermally decomposed into liquid smoke”, says Associate Professor Baroutian.