Real Food Encyclopedia | Kiwi
Don’t let the rather bland exterior of a kiwi fruit (Actinidia deliciosa) fool you: The beauty of a cut kiwi can’t be beat, with its emerald green interior and ring of jet-black seeds. And its flavor is like no other fruit — an intriguing cross between grapes and strawberries, but with a tropical flare (although the fruit isn’t actually tropical — more on that below). What you may not know is that the kiwi didn’t make its appearance commercially in the United States until the 1960s, making it one of the newest fruits on the market here. Read on to learn more about its fascinating history and more.
Fun facts about kiwis:
- In 1904, Mary Isabel Fraser, a school principal, brought the seeds back home to New Zealand after visiting a town in the Yangtze Valley in China.
- When Mary Isabel Fraser first brought kiwi seeds to New Zealand, they were known by their Chinese name: yang tao (“strawberry peach”). New Zealanders renamed the fruit to “Chinese gooseberries,” but this name proved not snappy enough for the newly emerging American market. New Zealand growers got together and came up with the name “kiwifruit,” after the similarly fuzzy and brown native New Zealand kiwi bird.
- Kiwi fruits’ emerald interior is green from chlorophyll, and each fruit can contain as many as 1,500 seeds, according to legendary food scientist Harold McGee.
What to look for when buying kiwis
The “Hayward” variety of kiwi, the most common in US markets, is about the size of a large chicken egg, with brown fuzzy skin, bright green flesh and tiny black seeds. You may see organic golden kiwi at the market, which is a little less acidic than the Hayward variety. It has slightly less fuzzy skin and lovely golden yellow flesh with the same characteristic black seeds.
While most people peel kiwi before eating it, its skin is actually edible, although a little fuzzy. In recent years, kiwi berries have come to market in the US. These are a different species of kiwi (Actinidia arguta) native to Japan, Northern China and Siberia. They are small, about the size of a large grape, and can be eaten whole.
Look for kiwis that feel heavy for their size, with no mushy or discolored spots. Choose firm kiwis if you’d like to hold off on eating them right away; otherwise, a ripe kiwi will yield to gentle pressure when you squeeze it.
Sustainability of kiwis
The University of California, Davis’ kiwi production guide notes that the fruit requires a great deal of irrigation to fruit properly. Given the issues surrounding water in drought-prone California, kiwi from California may not always be the most sustainable option. On top of that, much of the kiwi in the United States is imported from far-flung locales like New Zealand and Chile, so it may not be the best choice if you’re interested in eating locally.
In recent years, kiwi fruit growers in New Zealand have focused on more sustainable growing practices, with some non-organic kiwi growers employing integrated pest management in their kiwi fruit orchards in order to reduce the amount of pesticides used. And luckily, kiwi does not appear on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. To avoid pesticides, however, organic kiwis are readily available.
Kiwi fruit from California is in season from October through May, although fruit from Italy and Chile make kiwis available year-round.
China, Italy, New Zealand and Chile are the top producers of kiwi fruit in the world, and California produces 98 percent of the kiwi fruit in the United States.
Kiwi fruit is a lovely flowering vine. To produce fruit, growers must have both male and female vines (commercially, about one male plant for every eight to nine females), and the plants are pollinated by bees. Although the fruit tastes tropical, it actually grows best in temperate climates with lots of rainfall, cool winters and some elevation. Cultivars of A. deliciosa are what we most commonly see in the United States, but there are many different Actinidia species that are edible.
Ripe kiwi will keep for up to four weeks in the refrigerator and will even keep for up to 10 months in proper cold storage. Soften unripe kiwi by placing in a paper bag with a ripe banana or an apple; the kiwi should ripen in one to two days.
Our favorite way to eat a kiwi fruit is raw, out of hand. Peeled and sliced, they make lovely garnishes. The California kiwi board is pushing a way of eating kiwi called “slooping” — just slice the unpeeled fruit in half through its equator and scoop out the pulp with a spoon. Toss kiwi in salads or use to top your favorite fruit tart. Kiwi is a classic topping for the iconic Aussie/New Zealand dessert pavlova, which is traditionally a baked meringue topped with whipped cream and fruit. Kiwi can even be used to tenderize meat because enzymes in the fruit break down muscle fibers. Apply a bit of kiwi puree to London broil or other tougher cut of meat and allow to marinate for a short period of time — any longer, and the enzymes in the kiwi fruit actually digest the meat. Kiwi fruits are also high in pectin, so they can be used to firm up pie fillings — just add a bit of pureed kiwi to your favorite fruit pie filling.
Kiwi jam is really simple to make — check out this recipe for easy kiwi jam or this one for a delightful-looking strawberry-kiwi jam. Or even more interesting is a kiwi pickle — like this kiwi red pepper pickle with juniper and allspice. You can also freeze kiwi slices to use in smoothies and as garnishes — just peel and slice the fruit, place on a cookie sheet and freeze until solid, then transfer to zip-top freezer bags for storage.
Kiwi fruit is chock full of nutritional goodness. One large kiwi nets you 141 percent of your daily Vitamin C needs and 46 percent of your daily Vitamin K. The fruit is also high in dietary fiber and has decent amounts of potassium, folate, copper and Vitamin E. Kiwis contain calcium oxalate, which can be irritating to the throat and stomach if ingested in large quantities.