Māori people have been cooking with ingredients from New Zealand's native forests for more than a thousand years.
Pre European Māori Ingredients
Māori brought edible plants from their homeland, including kūmara, yam and taro. Along with root vegetables they also introduced kiore (the Polynesian rat) and kurī (the Polynesian dog), both valuable sources of meat.
Maori hunted a wide range of birds (i.e. mutton bird and moa), collected seafood and gathered native ferns, vines, palms, fungi, berries, fruit and seeds.
When Pākehā (European) settlers arrived in New Zealand, Māori embraced the new foods they brought, and began cultivating them. These crops included wheat, potatoes, maize, carrots, cabbage and other vegetables. Māori also began raising sheep, pigs, goats and poultry.
Since the late 20th century traditional Māori foods have been prepared in new ways to suit the modern palette, enduring Māori cuisine continues to be enjoyed.
Cold pressed flaxseed oil, made from the native New Zealand flax, is an unrefined oil, nothing is added or removed. It is a great source of Omega 3 and six essential fatty acids, Omega 9 antioxidants and vitamins.
Manuka was named 'tea tree' by Captain James Cook and English botanist Joseph Banks when they found it in Mercury Bay in 1769. Manuka wood chips can be used to add flavour when smoking food, but it is best known as the source of manuka honey which is used to produce a growing list of products with outstanding medicinal and antiseptic properties.
Pikopiko (fern shoots)
Most of the wild fern varieties that grow in damp shady areas of New Zealand’s native bush are carcinogenic - of 312 different varieties, only seven varieties are edible. The edible fern fronds, known as bush asparagus, are pale green with brown speckles. Picked before the leaves unfold, the fronds add a unique 'forest' flavour to dishes.
Korengo is seaweed which is either used in its raw state, or dried and used to season various dishes.
Puha, also known as sow thistle, is a green-dark green plant often found growing as a weed. The stem contains a milky coloured sap. Eaten raw, the stem and leaves have a bitter taste. Cooking does not remove the bitterness but it can be reduced by rubbing the puha plants together (vigorously) under running water. Puha is traditionally served cooked with pork.
Horopito, also known as the New Zealand pepper tree, can be used to replace conventional pepper in cooked dishes.
Kawakawa trees are mostly found in coastal areas of New Zealand in damp bush. The heart shaped leaves are dried, ground and then used to season, adding a rich forest aroma with a light minted flavour.
Kowhitiwhiti or watercress grows on the edge of fresh water rivers and creeks around New Zealand. Eaten raw or cooked, it has a mild mustard flavour.
Māori still follow the traditional Polynesian practice of cooking for large numbers in a hāngi. This earth oven or pit uses hot stones to create steam which cooks the food – to find out more about the hāngi click here.
Whitebait fishing was a well-established tradition before European settlement. To this day eager anglers wade in the water during spring to net fish. Try a whitebait patty to taste this delicacy.
Rēwena paraoa (potato bread) tastes sweet and has a slight sour/tang flavour to it, a result of the long period of fermentation it undergoes. The bread wonderfully textured and flavoursome.
New Zealand Greenshell™ mussels are the ultimate health food. They are a good source of protein and are low in fat and calories. As well as being particularly flavoursome, they are also a very good source of omega-3.
Paua is recognisable for its beautiful blue/green, iridescent shell and thin, black surface covering its creamy-white flesh in its natural state. Pāua is considered taonga (treasure), a gift from the god of the sea. It is highly valued for its firm meaty flesh and savoury, sea flavour. Its shell is used for jewellery and incorporated in traditional Maori carvings, usually to represent the eyes.
Bluff Oysters are a prized delicacy in New Zealand and many of the fishers who catch them have lived on the sea for generations. The season to try these tasty morsels is from March until August.
Kina (sea urchin)
Kina is a traditional food of the Māori, eaten raw this is a delicacy. The traditional method to eat a kina is to crack open the kina shell with a rock and take out the roe by hand.
Scallops are more than 80 percent protein – which makes them another healthy food choice. The soft fleshy texture and delicately mild sweet flavour of scallops are enjoyed by even those who are not particularly fond of fish or other shellfish. The season for fresh scallops in New Zealand runs from October through to March.
Koura are fresh water crayfish closer in size to a king prawn than lobster.
Known elsewhere as sweet potato, New Zealand kumara is particularly sweet and grows in the semi-tropical regions of the North Island. It is available in red, gold or orange varieties.
The origin of the name refers to the mutton-like taste of the flesh, and possibly the woolly appearance of its young. The bird is the size of a very small duck. Due to a very short season (1st April until 31st May) these birds are very expensive to purchase and are only available for a short period of time.
Kānga kōpiro (fermented corn)
Also known colloquially as “Maori porridge”, Kanga Pirau is decidedly an acquired taste. Kanga Pirau is prepared by putting corn cobs into sacks which are left in a clean running stream for up to six weeks until they have fermented. The corn kernels are then stripped from the cob, mashed and then cooked just like porridge and served either hot or cold.
Huhu grubs were part of a traditional Maori diet. A good fossick in fallen logs may reveal a wriggling colony. When eaten raw huhu grubs have the taste and consistency of peanut butter.