The Ark of Taste (or Arca del Gusto) is an initiative by Slow Food International to identify and preserve heritage food products that are considered at risk of being lost. It was established in 1996. According to Slow Food:
The Ark of Taste travels the world collecting small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet: an extraordinary heritage of fruits, vegetables, animal breeds, cheeses, breads, sweets and cured meats…
The Ark was created to point out the existence of these products and draw attention to the risk that they might disappear within a few generations.
Agricultural biodiversity and small–scale, family-based food production systems are in danger throughout the world due to industrialization, genetic erosion, changing consumption patterns, climate change, the abandonment of rural areas, migration, and conflict.
The Australian Ark of Taste was established in July 2003. Over the first seven years, just four Australian foods were accepted: Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey, Kangaroo Island Ligurian Bee Honey, Bullboar Sausages from the goldfields of Victoria, and the Bunya nut, a traditional aboriginal food indigenous to Queensland.
In 2011 the Wessex Saddleback pig was added to the Ark. Extinct in its native England where it was interbred with the Essex Saddleback to produce a breed now known as the British Saddleback, the Wessex breed has been preserved in Australia and New Zealand. Wessex Saddlebacks are usually kept by small producers on free-range farms and the meat is generally sold through farmers’ markets. In 2012, another rare breed of farm animal was listed – the Dairy Shorthorn, which is also in danger of becoming extinct through cross-breeding.
In 2013, several species of pear specifically suited to making perry (a similar beverage to cider) were also included. Perry pears are inedible but are pressed to extract their juice. These varieties were introduced to Victoria during the 1850s gold rush but many were obliterated during an outbreak of blight in the late 20th century.
By 2022 there were 63 Australian foods included in the Ark, most of which were wild foods. These range from the Angasi oyster to the Witchetty Grub, the Bogong Moth to the Murray Cod. Slow Food Australia writes:
Particularly important for the Australian Ark are foods from the traditional diets of indigenous Australians and cultures, such as the Pindan walnut from Western Australia and Finger limes from Australia’s East Coast. These wild foods reflect not only exciting and largely unknown nutritional and flavour profiles, but also the great importance of cultural knowledge and landscapes and the passing on of that knowledge.
To be accepted into the Ark of Taste foods need to be endangered, good (prized by those who eat them), clean (produced without harm to the environment) and fair (no commercial or trademarked foods are admitted).