Story: Māori foods – kai Māori

Page 3. Traditional foods

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Īnanga (whitebait)

Whitebait, small freshwater fish, are plentiful in spring when they run upstream. There are six native species, including īnanga, kōaro and kōkopu. Iwi often have their own specific names for them at different stages in their life cycles.

Huhu grubs

Huhu are still eaten by some Māori today, especially the inland, bush iwi and hapū. They are prised from rotting logs and have a buttery-chicken taste.

Kōmata (cabbage tree)

Kōmata (also tī kōuka or tī-kāuka) seeds are edible. The growing tips or leaf ‘hearts’ of these trees could also be harvested for eating by twisting them out at their natural snapping point, leaving the plant to regenerate and produce multiple hearts.

Flax seeds

Flax seeds can be prepared as a laxative by crushing them.

Pikopiko (fern shoots)

Pikopiko are fern shoots. Only seven out of around 200 species of New Zealand fern are edible.

Mouku (Asplenium bulbiferum, commonly known as hen and chickens fern) is the most widely eaten. Huruhuru whenua (Asplenium oblongifolium, commonly known as shining spleenwort) is very robust and flourishes on the coast, in native bush and, in recent times, in pine forests.

In the central North Island, pikopiko can be harvested all year round.

Karaka berries

The fleshy berry of the karaka tree is initially green, then ripens to bright orange in summer. Its ripe texture is like that of a date and it has a light mango flavour. The kernel is poisonous and can cause paralysis. After removing the berry’s flesh, Māori made the kernel safe to eat by steeping it in water and cooking it for up to 12 hours. To make flour, the processed kernels were sundried until the husk came apart. The nut was then pounded into flour, mixed with water and cooked on the embers.


Karengo, sometimes known as parengo (Porphyra species), is a seaweed with exceptional eating qualities, also used as medicine and as a storage container or a steaming vessel for fish, kōura (crayfish) and other kaimoana (seafood). Karengo has a strong flavour and can be eaten dried or reconstituted in hot water as soup.


Toroi is a dish of fresh mussels combined with pūhā (Sonchus species, commonly known as sow thistle) and mussel stock to create a distinct and flavoursome relish or soup.

Harvesting harore

When the sun comes out after rain, harore can be found by following the smell. Native mushrooms are very pungent when they burst forth. They have to be harvested quickly to beat the bugs and insects that can strip a wall of mushrooms on a bank or a log in no time. If the bugs have beaten you there, harvest the fungi, then immerse them in water, and lift them out again to clean. Shake them and spread them on a tray to dry.


Māori knew of many varieties of edible fungus including harore (bootlace mushroom), hakeka (wood ear) and pukurau (puffballs). Fungi grew abundantly in the cool, damp New Zealand bush.

Harore grow in a very specific, moist, humid environment. They appear only for a short time each year, but in large quantities. They are then harvested and preserved for the off-season.

How to cite this page:

Charles Royal and Jenny Kaka-Scott, 'Māori foods – kai Māori - Traditional foods', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Charles Royal and Jenny Kaka-Scott, published 5 Sep 2013