Story: Food

Page 4. Cereals

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There are no indigenous cereal foods in New Zealand. All were brought to New Zealand by European settlers in the 19th century.

No Weetabix in New Zealand

In 2012 New Zealand cereal company Sanitarium ordered Nelson shopkeeper Bob Wren to remove boxes of the British cereal Weetabix – the equivalent of New Zealand’s Weet-Bix – because it breached trademark-related restrictions. According to Sanitarium, Weetabix could not be sold in New Zealand, and Weet-Bix could not be sold in Britain. Wren, whose store specialises in British goods, refused to remove Weetabix from his shelves. He sold out of Weetabix due to all the publicity – even New Zealanders came into the store to buy it – and continued to stock it.

Wheat

Wheat has always been the most important cereal in New Zealand, followed by oats.

By 1880 New Zealand grew enough wheat for its own needs and even to export, but since the 1900s has mainly imported wheat from Canada and Australia. Since the 1930s domestic use of flour, which is produced from wheat, declined considerably, while its use in commercial biscuit manufacturing gradually increased.

Bread

Traditionally, New Zealanders mainly ate white bread – in the 1930s it accounted for 60–80% of consumption, and only 6% of the population ate brown bread.

Stigma

Brown bread was traditionally unpopular because it carried with it historical associations of poverty. In Europe the wealthier classes had long eaten fine white bread and those lower down the pecking order had to be content with rougher brown bread. A baker who gave evidence before the Cost of Living Commission in 1912 said ‘the demand was for white bread – the whiter the better.’1

Brown and wholemeal bread gained greater acceptance with the arrival of Dutch, Swiss, Scandinavian and German immigrants after 1950. Dutch immigrant Johan Klisser began making what is now known as Vogel’s bread in Auckland in 1956. Wholemeal bread became more popular as consumers grew more aware of the benefits of dietary fibre.

Oats

Oat consumption, mainly as porridge for breakfast, was high throughout the 19th century. It declined between the 1920s and 1940s as wheat-based proprietary brands of cereal such as Weet-Bix took over. In the 1970s oats became more popular again – this was associated with the rise of health foods and the burgeoning popularity of muesli.

Rice

Rice has always been imported. Consumption declined steadily from 3–4 kilograms per person in the 1900s to 1 kilogram by 1960. Since then it has risen, with long-grain rice replacing short-grain rice. In the 1990s arborio risotto rice from Italy and Australia, glutinous rice from Japan, and quality basmati from India and Pakistan became available. New Zealanders’ tastes have moved from milk-based rice puddings to savoury uses.

Pasta

Pasta never featured highly in the diet of 19th-century New Zealanders. In the 20th century imports grew from 50 tonnes in 1900 to 400 tonnes in 1935, by which time the Diamond pasta factory had opened in Timaru. Also in the 1930s, the Nelson firm of S. Kirkpatrick and Company began manufacturing tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce.

Interest in pasta grew in the 1950s, and was significant enough for Edmonds, a New Zealand baking-supplies company, to issue a pasta cookbook in 1964. Growth in the number of Italian restaurants further fuelled pasta consumption.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted in Ray Bailey and Mary Earle, Home cooking to takeaways: changes in food consumption in New Zealand during 1880–1990. Palmerston North: Department of Food Technology, Massey University, 1993, p. 79. Back
How to cite this page:

David Burton, 'Food - Cereals', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/food/page-4 (accessed 17 June 2019)

Story by David Burton, published 5 Sep 2013