Martine Ah Heng came to Australia to attend a cake-decorating seminar in 2006. Enjoying her short visit and seeing Melbourne as a place with good opportunities to build her career – Martine is a trained pastry chef – and pursue her dream of one day having her own foodie business, she migrated to Australia and settled in the city in 2010.
Having established herself in Melbourne, Martine became fascinated with the new and interesting flavours the renowned chefs she was working with used. So, she started The Bakery Lab in 2018 as a side hustle, using Australian native flavours to make goodies to gift to friends and family members when they visited.
“When I decided to market my products, I conducted some market research and I found that the savoury crackers proved to be everyone’s favourite,” Martine recalls. “I believe it was because we used native flavours that were still not readily available at that time. My goal is to make nutritious, healthy alternatives to the biscuits and wheat crackers normally served when entertaining at home or gifting.
“We believe the hard work and dedication shown by Australian farmers should be rewarded.”
The main ingredient in Martine’s crackers is teff, which she uses with a mix of nutritious seeds such as wattle seed, saltbush, native basil, native thyme, hemp seeds, flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and other Australian native ingredients. “All these nutrient-dense ingredients are essential to a healthy lifestyle and can be found in one small bite,” Martine avers.
“Teff is an Ethiopian ancient grain packed full of nutrients,” Martine explains. “It is a gluten-free wholegrain known as the world’s smallest grain. It is in the staple diets of Ethiopians, who consume teff up to three times daily as their main source of protein.”
Teff is becoming one of the most popular alternatives to wheat. It has a higher fibre content than wheat and rice, it is high in probiotics essential to gut health, and contains fermentable fibre-resistant starch. “This amazing little grain also has three times more iron than meat, contains more calcium than a glass of milk, and is high in protein,” Martine enthuses. “Teff also promotes immunity by containing the eight essential amino acids, Vitamins B and C, potassium, magnesium, copper, and zinc. It is especially nutritious for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet.”
Martine uses only high-quality, sustainably grown teff sourced from an Australian-owned and operated family business. “Our supplier has been in agricultural farming for four generations now,” Martine says.
The native Australian ingredients she uses are sourced from Mayi Harvests Native Foods, a family business that has followed the traditional methods of collecting plants, fruits and seeds off the land for food, health and medicine for generations. “The Mayi Harvest community are committed to ensuring Indigenous Australians participate, through employment and training, in a brighter future within a sustainable native food industry,” Martine explains. “They continue to preserve their traditions through the practice of wild harvesting and traditional land management practices, informed by Kimberley Indigenous knowledge systems handed down through the generations. And The Bakery Lab are committed to supporting them. We believe the hard work and dedication shown by Australian farmers should be rewarded.”
As for the future, Martine is keen not just to share her crackers with Australians, but also to take them out into the wider world. “We see our products being served on airlines and stocked in hotel mini bars so travellers can appreciate genuine Australian flavours,” Martine concludes.
This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.