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Consumption of kangaroo meat has had a bit of a strange history in Australia. For most of the 20th century, it wasn’t allowed to be sold for human consumption in Victoria, New South Wales or Queensland, and could only be packaged as pet food. But kangaroo only acquired a reputation of being substandard at the beginning end of the 19th century. It was only during a depression in the 1890s when the poor began to rely on wild-caught food that kangaroo acquired a reputation as a food for the desperate and people began to look down their noses at it. From the time white settlers landed in Australia they had been eating it, and obviously, Indigenous Australians had been eating kangaroo for over 40,000 years. But the stigma around kangaroo lasted all the way into the 1990s.
Now Kangaroo meat is celebrated for its rich, gamey flavour and for being incredibly lean. It’s served in a variety of ways in some of the best restaurants around Australia and is starting to gain traction overseas.
Currently, most kangaroo meat is sourced from wild animals as a byproduct of population control programmes. Although most species of ‘roo are protected from non-Indigenous hunting by law, a small number of the larger species with high population numbers can be hunted by licensed commercial hunters.
The ‘kangaroo harvest’ as its known is supported by a range of ecologists in Australia, groups such as the Ecological Society of Australia, the Australasian Wildlife Management Society and the Australian Mammal Society have endorsed kangaroo population control schemes.
The harvest helps alleviate pressure on the fragile Australian ecosystem in a number of ways. First and most obvious is by reducing the number of roos. The second is by using kangaroo as a source of meat, leather etc it’s reducing the need to farm animals like cows and sheep, animals that are not traditionally conditioned to live in Australia and put a lot more stress on the environment when farmed.
Though it is impossible to determine the exact number, government conservation agencies in each state calculate ‘roo population estimates every year. Most of the work is done via aerial survey, and Current estimates indicate that there may be between 35 and 50 million kangaroos in Australia. The most recent increase in hunting limit was in 2002 when the number of kangaroos allowed to be shot by commercial hunters was increased from 5.5 million to 7 million per year. This was largely on the back of farmers complaining of ‘plague-like numbers’ of kangaroos that were destroying their grazing land. A 2002 report studying the grazing pressure caused by kangaroos showed this was largely false. In 2018, around 6 million roos were culled.
Kangaroos are protected by legislation in Australia, both state and federal, and can only be harvested by licensed shooters in accordance with a strict code of practice. Meat that is exported is subject to the same rigours and quality control as all other farmed meat.
The cull quotas Australia are the responsibility of each state or territory government. Different states allow different breeds to be hunted and in different numbers. For example in Queensland, only the following breeds (up to 2017) were included in the quota: red kangaroo, eastern grey kangaroo and the common wallaroo.
“Sustainable use quotas” are typically between 10–20% of the kangaroo estimated population. Even though quotas are established by each state, very rarely does actual culling reach 35% of the total quotas allowed. In the 2015 harvest period, only 25% of the total allowed kangaroo quota was used.
The meat is then sold to producers who then butcher the kangaroo and produce commercially sold ‘roo meat. This is the meat you see in supermarkets and restaurants across Australia. Kangaroo leather is also highly sought after and is used in everything from footballs to car seats.
Now that the facts are out of the way, let’s get down to eating!
As we said, kangaroo meat is very lean and high in protein. So while it’s healthier for you than other fattier meats, the downside of being so lean is that without fat running through the meat, it can easily become dry and tough if it’s overcooked.
Luckily this makes it the absolute perfect meat for stir-frys and hot pots! The super high heat and short cook times used in stir-frying means it’s easy to monitor and hard to overcook while boiling kangaroo meat in hotpots keeps it tender and moist. Plus, being such a flavourful meat it’s great with soups as well.
If you haven’t tried kangaroo yet, get down and give it a go. You won’t regret it!