Kiwifruit is so-named in tribute to the fuzzy brown Kiwi bird native to New Zealand. Originally discovered in China, returning missionaries brought the fruit to New Zealand. For centuries, kiwifruit were known as Chinese gooseberries and made their debut as such in the United States in the early 1960s. They were subsequently “discovered” by an American produce distributor who decided the name was unsuitable. After some debate, Chinese gooseberries were reborn stateside as kiwifruit.
Kiwifruit, about the size of an egg, has a dull brown skin and vibrant green or golden flesh with rows of tiny edible black seeds. Kiwifruit boasts an almost creamy consistency and a zesty bite, said to be reminiscent of strawberries or pineapple.
Today, nearly all the kiwifruit produced in the United States is from California. There are over 40 varieties of kiwifruit in the world market and California produces just 4 of these, the most popular of which is the Hayward. Other popular varieties of kiwifruit include baby kiwis (about the size of table grapes) and gold kiwifruit, whose flesh boasts a sweeter, less acidic flavor.
Despite the rising popularity of California kiwifruit, the United States is still a small player in the world kiwifruit market. Other kiwifruit producers include France, Italy, Chile, New Zealand, and Japan. With such an extensive market, kiwifruit is available year round. California produces a crop available from October through May; the Southern Hemisphere produces a harvest on the alternate seasons.
Kiwifruit is not only delicious, it is nutritious. A medium fruit contains just 46 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrates and 1 g of protein. A kiwifruit provides 3 g of fiber or 9% of daily values, but if you keep the skin intact, you’ll get almost triple the amount of fiber.
When it comes to nutrition, kiwifruit gives oranges and bananas a real run for their money. A large kiwi contains 70 mg or 117% of the recommended daily value for vitamin C and 237 mg or 7% of the daily value for potassium – only slightly less potassium by weight than a banana. Kiwifruit is also a great source of vitamin K with 30.6 mcg or 38% of the DVs. Many of these nutrients are stored immediately under the skin so for maximum health benefits, rinse and enjoy your kiwifruit whole, skin and all.
For an unexpected health bonus, try kiwifruit oil. Made from crushed kiwifruit seeds, this oil is rich in Alpha-Linolenic Acid, an important Omega-3 essential fatty acid.
Most likely due to the vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids from the edible seeds, kiwifruit appears to have the properties of a natural blood thinner. A study performed on human volunteers reported that consuming 2 – 3 kiwifruit per day for 28 days resulted in a significant drop in platelet aggregation and blood triglyceride levels. At the conclusion of the study, participants reduced their platelet aggregation response by 18% and their triglycerides by 15%.
Studies have also demonstrated kiwifruit to be effective in treating respiratory problems in children. Participants noticed improvement in wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and runny nose. These respiratory benefits can be traced to the high levels of vitamin C and potassium present in kiwifruit.
Kiwifruit is full of carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids combined with the complimentary benefits of vitamin C and vitamin E make kiwifruit a powerful little antioxidant.
Kiwifruit are rich in actinidin, a protein dissolving enzyme. This enzyme can elicit an allergic response in certain individuals. Specifically, people allergic to latex, papaya or pineapple are likely to also be allergic to kiwifruit. The most common symptoms include itching of the mouth, lips and palate, but more severe cases can result in wheezing and collapse. Organically produced kiwifruit, not treated with ethylene gas, will have fewer allergy producing compounds. Cooking kiwifruit also appears to deactivate the enzyme.
Selection and Storage
When selecting kiwifruit, start by choosing a firm, unblemished fruit. Avoid fruits that are shriveled or those with soft spots. Do not worry about the size of the fruit, size does not impact flavor. The kiwifruit you choose should yield to gentle pressure. A fruit that is rock hard with be extremely sour; a too soft fruit will be mushy when cut. If a fruit is too firm it will ripen when left out at room temperature for several days.
Store whole uncut kiwifruit in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator. Stored this way, kiwifruit can be kept fresh for several weeks, although it is best to enjoy within a week. Kiwifruit should be enjoyed soon after cutting. Because the fruit contains enzymes that act as a food tenderizer, cut kiwifruit will tenderize itself and become overly soft. To avoid kiwifruit tenderizing your fruit salad, store separately and toss in at the last minute.
To enjoy your kiwifruit, rinse first with warm water to remove any pesticide residue. Kiwifruit can be peeled and sliced, cut in half and scooped or enjoyed whole, skin and all! The fuzz on the skin can be easily rubbed off with a paper towel if the texture bothers you.
The tenderizing enzyme in kiwifruit makes the fruit unsuitable for any recipes containing milk or dairy. Fortunately, there are plenty of other recipes in which kiwifruit can shine.
Kiwifruit makes a fantastic addition to fruit salad, especially as a compliment, or replacement, to strawberries. Kiwifruit combined with pineapple and orange makes delicious chutney to serve with grilled chicken or fish dishes.
For an early spring treat sure to please guests, impress with kiwifruit margaritas. In a blender, combine 1 ½ peeled kiwifruit, ½ ounce melon liqueur, a splash a Triple Sec, a splash of lime juice, an ounce of tequila and 8 crushed iced cubes. Serve in stemmed glasses garnished with a kiwifruit slice! (Serves 2).
For a delicious, refreshing and alcohol free sipper try Kiwifruit Mint Lemonade.
Kiwifruit plants are normally dioecious, meaning each plant is either male or female. Only the female plants bear fruit and must first be pollinated by a male plant. One male pollinator is required for each three to eight female vines.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.