Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

New Zealand Foods



Milk is taken by most children at most meals in the form of fresh whole milk. Where considered necessary, toddlers are provided with the New Zealand Whole Milk Biscuit, a cookie enriched with protein in the form of skim milk powder. Most adults take some milk in tea, soups, and creamy desserts. The use of skim milk, powdered skim milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese is still limited although increasing in popularity. Many varieties of cheeses are available but not widely used.


Produce is mainly grown on the North Island where the climate varies from temperate to sub-tropical, allowing for an almost continuous growing period. Imported, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are also used. Fruits include apples, pears, varieties of berries, plums, peaches, apricots, nectarine, and cherries. The more exotic fruits include feijoas, tamarillo (tree tomato), kiwi (Chinese gooseberry), passion fruit, and pineapple. Pumpkin and sweet potatoes (called kumara) are the staple vegetables but many other common vegetables and salad greens are also used.


Lamb is the number-one meat in New Zealand almost to the exclusion of beef, pork, and poultry. Distinction is made in the age of the lamb: the youngest and most tender is called spring lamb and is aged from twelve to eighteen weeks; weaned lamb is aged from four and one-half to nine months old. Hogget is the deeper pink-fleshed lamb butchered from nine to twenty months. Young mutton is the next classification and includes lamb from twenty months to two years. Mature mutton is strong in taste, deep red in flesh color with brittle white fat, and for this the sheep are butchered from two to five years old. The most common method of cooking is oven-roasting, with prepared vegetables added near the end of the cooking time. Currently lamb has been used more imaginatively in a variety of international dishes.

Popular fish include trout, cod, red snapper, groper, terekihi, John Dory, flounder and tuna, with whitebait considered a special delicacy. Oysters, mussels, and eels are widely used. Toheroa is a native bivalve considered a delicacy but not always available. Crayfish, similar to lobsters, are enjoyed and crayfish tails are exported. Fish is eaten in quantity often as an ingredient in other dishes, sometimes as a garnish or side dish. Legumes are seldom used except for special dishes.


New Zealand is almost self-sufficient in wheat production. Few wholegrain breads or cereals are consumed; white wheat flour is favored. Oats as a baking ingredient and hot breakfast porridge are used occasionally. But there is increasing emphasis on “health foods” with the resulting interest in whole grains and varieties of different grains, including wheat germ. “Tea breads” or quick breads, biscuits, scones and cakes are served whenever tea is poured and often are a regular part of most meals as well.


New Zealand butter and cream are of fine quality and widely used. Butter, lard, cooking oil, and salt pork are all used in cooking.


Much sugar is consumed in the form of sweetened tea, sweet pastries, and candies as well as preserves such as jams, jellies, and marmalades.


With traditional British restraint in seasoning, Kiwis have used little more than salt, pepper, and onions. However, more current interest and stimulation in imaginative cooking has brought an increase in both seasonings and condiments, although bland flavors still prevail.


Tea is the beverage for every meal and as a mid-morning snack usually with biscuits or breads. Tea is traditionally taken with milk and sugar. Local wines are appearing more frequently in homes and restaurants, and beer is enjoyed for quick lunches and outdoor parties.

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