It is of Cape Dutch origin with many additions which may differ from one area to the next, e.g., ginger. It has many variants, such as the Cape brandy pudding, which also includes brandy and dates, and the tipsy tart, which contains only brandy.
There are various theories on the origin of the name.
The Oxford English Dictionary says it comes from Afrikaansmalva, meaning "marshmallow" (ultimately from Latin malva, a mallow). This may arise from a resemblance between the pudding's texture and that of a marshmallow or a similar Afrikaner sweet, the malvelekker, made with the extract of marsh mallow.
Malva is also Afrikaans for geranium (in the broad sense, including Pelargonium). Another botanical theory is that the batter was originally flavoured with the leaves of the lemon- or the rose-scented geranium, varieties of South African native plants.
Art Smith said that according to Colin Cowie, his hospitality ambassador in South Africa, the pudding was named after a woman called Malva.
Another theory is that the sauce originally contained Malvasia (malmsey) wine. Proponents of this theory include brandy or sherry in the sauce.
Still others suggest that the pudding was originally accompanied by Malvasia wine.