(Actinidia sinensis – Family Actinidiaceae)
Kiwi Fruit, Chinese gooseberry
kiwi/souris végétale (vegetable mouse)(French), kiwi (German/Italian/Spanish), kiwi (frukt) (Swedish), kiivi (hedelmä)(Finnish), qi wei guo (Chinese), kiwi furutsu (Japanese)
Kiwi fruit originated in the Yangtze Valley, where several species of Actinidia grow wild. It remains a mystery as to why the Chinese never latched onto this fruit and cultivated it as they did with so many others.
Early in the 20th century, seeds of A. chinensis were taken to New Zealand, and the first crop was harvested in 1910. Commerical cultivation began in the 1930s, but the first shipment did not reach England until 1953. Progress in its cultivation was slow as was acceptance of this new fruit.
When it was renamed after New Zealand’s native bird, the kiwi, a flightless, hairy brown bird, its popularity began to soar, at least in New Zealand.
Then, when ‘nouvelle cuisine’ began to blossom in France, the kiwi fruit quickly assumed a star role as a decorative ingredient in fruit salads and many other dishes. But not everyone was as impressed with the new name.
Many thought it reminded them of the brand name for a shoe polish. It has also been said that New Zealand changed the name to overcome American prejudice, which at the time during the McCarthy era, was rife against the Chinese. Whatever the reason, kiwi fruit it is, and kiwi fruit it will remain.
The Kiwi is a cylindrical fruit, covered with a light brown fuzzy skin. Although the skin is edible, its fuzzy texture is not appealing enough for most people to try.
Their average size is three to four inches in length or about the size of a large egg. Inside, the beautiful green flesh holds a crown of tiny edible black seeds (about 1,400 according to some sources) arranged around a white core.
Most of the kiwi’s fiber, vitamins, and minerals are found in the seeds. The flavour is delicate, refreshing, and reminiscent of strawberries.
Although the skin of the kiwi is slightly fuzzy, there is a red variety, called hardy kiwi, that has a smooth skin. This variety, according to some botanists, is a separate species and not widely cultivated.
Another variety, about the size of a grape, has an opaque green, smooth skin.
A single kiwi fruit contains a generous supply of vitamin C – about ten times that of an equal amount of lemons. It also contains a digestive enzyme similar to that found in papaya and pineapple.
Because of that, it cannot be placed in jello as the enzymes will prevent setting, much like the effects of fresh pineapple. These same enzymes will also curdle milk, so they cannot be used in making ice cream. Cooking will destroy the enzymes, as well as the texture and flavour.
Kiwi fruits are ripe when they yield to gentle pressure, much like a pear. Hard, unripened fruit can be ripened at home if stored at room temperature; but they should not be stored with other fruits as the enzymes in kiwi fruit cause other fruits to ripen more quickly.
Firm, unripened kiwis will keep for several weeks if stored in a cool place. Kiwis are equally good eaten raw by themselves, puréed in drinks, or combined with other fruits in a salad.