Mother's Day

The Dessert Australians and New Zealanders Are Squabbling Over

In honor of where we came from (that is, our mothers), we're exploring the origins of some of our favorite foods and drinks. Today: the pavlova.

The pavlova, that airy dessert made from crisp meringue shell topped with whipped cream and fruit, is quintessentially Australian—at least according to the Australians.

New Zealanders would beg to disagree.

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Something of a sibling rivalry exists between the two countries, and they love to squabble over who gets credit for anything from Russell Crowe to a racehorse named Phar Lap. One of their longest-running disputes is over the origin of the pavlova, or “pav,” as both sides affectionately call it. Australians say they invented the recipe; New Zealanders say they did. In reality, they’re probably both wrong.

The pavlova is named after the famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926. As the New Zealand story goes, the chef of a Wellington hotel at the time created the billowy dessert in her honor, claiming inspiration from her tutu. Australians, on the other hand, believe the pavlova was invented at a hotel in Perth, and named after the ballerina when one diner declared it to be “light as Pavlova.”

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Top Comment:
“I made the 1911 Strawberries Pavlova dessert last year and it was delicious (although very different to the meringue pavlova we all know and love.) -Annabelle Utrecht.”
— Annabelle U.

Anna Pavlova was a superstar of her day, adored and admired all over the world. As a result, a lot of chefs named their dishes after her. In France, there were frogs' legs à la Pavlova; in America, Pavlova ice cream.

And even on the other side of the world, the first published “pavlova” recipe had nothing to do with meringue. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this first mention of a dessert called pavlova appeared in a 1927 cookbook called Davis Dainty Dishes, put out in New Zealand by the Davis Gelatine company. But that recipe is for a multi-layered jelly, so it does little to settle the debate. New Zealanders, however, claim any pavlova recipe is proof enough that they invented pavlova, and that recipes for the meringue pavlova appeared on their little island soon after. Australians counter that: Even if New Zealanders get credit for the name, an Aussie chef is responsible for inventing the true pavlova we know today, they say.

But the most recent research, by Dr. Andrew Paul Wood and Annabelle Utrecht (a New Zealander and an Australian, respectively), suggests that the true pavlova has roots in Germany and America. Last year, after a solid two years of digging through old recipes, the duo told the Australian website Good Food that they had found somewhere over 150 recipes for meringue-based cakes that look an awful lot like pavlova, all published before Anna Pavlova even arrived down under in 1926!

One of the first pavlova-like recipes Wood and Utrecht found is for a meringue, cream, and fruit torte called the Spanische Windtorte, much loved by the Austrian Habsburgs of the 18th century. They also found similar torte recipes among those brought to America by the German immigrants who settled in the Midwest. Particularly with the invention of the hand-cranked egg beater in the late 1800s, these and other meringue recipes seem to have become hugely popular among American housewives.

Wood and Utrecht believe the pavlova recipe as we know it may have traveled to Australia and New Zealand on the back of a cornstarch box. Unlike French meringue cookies, pavlova meringue often incorporates cornstarch, which gives it a marshmallow-y interior. So, as such companies are wont to do to this day, an American cornstarch manufacturer put a recipe for a dessert similar to pavlova on its packaging and began exporting to New Zealand.

In the end, neither New Zealand nor Australia can really claim to have birthed the pavlova: They didn’t invent the recipe, and they weren’t even the first to name a dessert after the dancer (Wood and Utrecht found a recipe for "strawberries Pavlova" dating from 1911). But one of them was probably the first to put the name to that recipe, and both of them deserve the credit for keeping this dessert alive and well while all the other dishes named Pavlova didn’t make it past the era when a ballerina was the biggest star in the world.

What's you favorite way to top a pavlova? Tell us in the comments below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Robskilovin
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Writer, baker, eater


Robskilovin February 5, 2023
Man, that's fighting talk!! 😀
1 May 7, 2021
dababy les goo
Zaim June 12, 2020
I would like to use some of this information in my assignment 😁
Xine H. April 21, 2020
It’s New Zealand 🇳🇿 😉
dkettel February 16, 2020
Mixed berries stewed in balsamic vinegar, sugar and vanilla, and then topped with vanilla whip cream and toasted pistachios.
Beryl G. May 5, 2017
Margaret Fulton's Cherry Pavlova is to die for. The recipe can be found in several of her books. Due to copyright laws I cannot post it here. It is absolutely the best Christmas dessert here in Australia when cherries are bountiful.
Annabelle U. June 2, 2016
Great post Marguerite and thank you for the mention. There is much more to be revealed on the pavlova's origins and we're really looking forward to sharing our discoveries soon. I made the 1911 Strawberries Pavlova dessert last year and it was delicious (although very different to the meringue pavlova we all know and love.) -Annabelle Utrecht.
Giao D. May 6, 2016
I wish we had access to fresh passion fruit in the US. I have made many a pavlova but never with passion fruit which I hear is the classic Aussie way. But love pavlovas, any way, in the spring!
Zoe N. May 21, 2020
Here, at least, you can get passionfruit pulp in a can. Its a little thinner and more tangy but it's pretty close if you can't get the real thing!