(Psidium guajava – Family Myrtaceae)
goyave (French), Guave (German), guaiva (Italian), guayaba (Spanish), goiaba (Portuguese), guyava (Hebrew), gawafa (Arabic), amrud (Hindi), koya (Tamil), malaka (Burmese), farang/ma kuai (Thai), jambu batu (Malay), jambu biji/jambu klutuk (Indonesian), bayabas (Philippines), fan shi liu (Chinese), banjiro/guaba (Japanese), kuawa (Hawaiian), guave de Chine (Réunion)
The oldest known traces of the guava were found in archaeological sites in Peru, dating from about 800 BCE. The tree was probably first cultivated there, but had since spread as far north as Mexico by 200 BCE.
Europeans first met the fruit when it arrived in Haiti, where it was called “guayavu”. Spanish and Portuguese mariners soon spread the tree to other regions.
In the 17th century, it was well-established in India and Southeast Asia, where it remains popular. It is also cultivated in Hawaii, Florida, and California. The Arawak Indians of the West Indies called the fruit “guayaba” and taught Columbus to do the same.
The first account of this fruit dates from 1526 and describes its many seeds, which are thought to have been most instrumental in the spreading of the plant. Birds would eat the fruit, then fly hither and yon, distributing their undigested lunch. This is also thought to have been the scenario on the isle of Crete, where a South African took the plant, but “the birds did the rest”.
Guavas are exceptionally rich in Vitamin C and are a good source of niacin, potassium, and dietary fiber. They are noted for their astringent qualities and used when diarrhea is a problem. Therefore, they should be eaten sparingly to avoid constipation.
Similar in shape to pears or plums, guavas can be as small as an inch or as large as four inches in diameter, but will vary in size, shape, and colour, even within the principal species. However, the larger, pear-shaped, white ones are considered to be the best.
Most guavas have a thin, pale green skins, which can turn a light yellow as they ripen. The flesh varies from white through to deep pink or salmon red.
The fruits contain a number of flattish, hard, but edible, seeds and are highly scented with an acid-sweet flavour, similar to that of a quince. Ripe guavas are delicious eaten raw; but they can also be poached in a syrup, made into jams, or used in savoury dishes.
Like quinces, guavas have an affinity for apples, and a few slices of peeled guava added to an apple pie or sauce will give it a zestier flavour.
Guavas make a particularly good jelly if the small sour fruits are used. This jelly has a musky flavour that is preferred by some. Another preserve is a stiff paste known as “guava cheese”, similar to the thick Brazilian jam called “goiabada”. In the West Indies, the fruit shells are stewed to make “cascos de guayaba”, which is often served with cream cheese.
There are 150 varieties of guava, which can be as small as an egg or as large as a pear, with greenish-white, yellow, or red skins which can be either smooth or pitted. Sometimes, the shape is that of an apple; or, sometimes, that of a pear.
Of the various closely related species, Psidium cattleianum, the strawberry or Carrley guava, is considered the best and now widely cultivated. Native to Brazil, the tree produces round reddish-green fruits.
The variety, lucida, known as the Chinese strawberry guava, bears yellow fruits which are particularly good. The name refers to the fact that their sweet and aromatic flavour is not typically musky, but more like that of a strawberry.
The most common variety in North America is the Beaumont, a large commercial variety. It looks like a pale yellow lemon, with a smooth skin covering pink flesh.
Another, the pineapple guava, is not a true guava, but a feijoa. There are also canned guavas available, but their flavour bears little resemblance to the fresh fruit.