One month ago while hiking on the trail to Wairere Falls, the tallest waterfall on the North Island, we met an older retired couple who had sold their house some years earlier and now lived entirely in a large, hippie-type school bus. They told us how they spent three months each year packing kiwifruit in Te Puke, a town twenty minutes from where we live.
“You can make good money,” the man said. “The work is easy but you do work ten hours a day, six days a week. Shifts go round the clock. We work from 6 PM to 4 AM, then go to sleep, wake up in the early afternoon, then go to the beach for a few hours before heading back to work. We just park the camper in the campground with everyone else that is working there. That money along with a small pension is enough to last us the year.”
As it turns out, Te Puke, the town he referred to, is the kiwifruit capital of the world. Of the 100 million trays of kiwifruit sent from New Zealand to 62 countries around the world, 90% are grown in the Te Puke region.
But what is the story behind this strange fruit from New Zealand that we’d even see while shopping at our local supermarket, King Soopers, back in Colorado?
When Isabel Fraser, a headmistress of a New Zealand girl’s college, visited her missionary sister in China in 1904, she brought back seeds from a strange Chinese fruit with a brown furry outer skin and bright green flesh inside. In the Yangtze Valley, it was known as Yang Tao or “monkey peach”. Isabel gave the seeds to a local New Zealand farmer who grew and cultivated the plants which were called Chinese gooseberries by New Zealanders. The plant grew well in the climate here and over the next years an Auckland nurseryman further refined and developed what was to become the current preferred cultivated variety (cultivar) of the fruit. Initially it was grown only in domestic gardens but began to be grown commercially in the 1940s. Sales of the fruit soared when it began to be exported throughout the world, and the name of the succulent green fruit was then briefly changed from Chinese gooseberry to melonette, since the name Chinese gooseberry was felt to be too long-winded, not sexy enough and connoted a connection with then unpopular communist Red China particularly with US consumers. In 1959 the name of the fruit was once again changed, this time to kiwifruit, a name which has persisted and also served to identify the product with New Zealand. Although some call the fruits, kiwis, to be accurate, the fruit is best called kiwifruit to distinguish it from the kiwi, New Zealand’s flightless bird, and Kiwis (capital ‘k’) which refers to the New Zealand people themselves.
Kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosis) is grown in orchards. The plant itself is a vine and grown with supports similar to grapes. Dense hedges often surround the orchards protecting the plants from the wind.
Amazingly, such a small fruit is packed with nutrition. An enzyme in kiwifruit aids with digestion and high levels of Vitamin C (twice the amount as in an orange) and vitamin E (twice the amount as in an avocado) add to its nutritional punch. Kiwifruit can also apparently be kept for up to 9 months under refrigeration.
According to Wikipedia, 70% of kiwifruit production occurs in three countries: Italy, New Zealand and Chile. Italy produces 10% more kiwifruit than New Zealand and Chile produces 40% less. All New Zealand kiwifruit are marketed under the brand name Zespri. Owned by some 2700 kiwifruit growers, Zespri coordinates the production and exportation of kiwifruit in New Zealand and the name Zespri also serves to distinguish New Zealand kiwifruit from that of other countries.
In the 1970s Zespri developed a new variety of kiwifruit, a smooth-skinned, yellow-fleshed fruit called the SunGold Kiwifruit. It has overtones of a mango or tropical fruit taste, which was felt to be particularly desirable by Asian consumers. Also the skin is less furry, although its storage life isn’t as long as the original kiwifruit.
How to eat kiwifruit? You can just bite into it like an apple. There is no problem eating the skin; in fact, the skin is particularly full of nutritious substances. Or you can cut a kiwifruit in half and scoop out the pulp with a spoon. Or slice it up and eat it with yogurt. Or slice it up and top your pavlova, New Zealand’s iconic desert, with the slices. Or make a kiwifruit smoothie with kiwifruit, apples, spinach, lettuce and pineapple. Or how about kiwifruit and apricot jam, daiquiris with kiwifruit, shrimp and kiwifruit kebabs, kiwifruit avocado sashimi, kiwifruit gazpacho with dill and salmon, kiwifruit salad with Italian ham and Cambozola, or kiwifruit and mango noodles.
Or even kiwifruit popsicles for the kids!
1) hedges Kiwifruit hectarage – Bay of Plenty region – Te Ara Encyclopedia www.teara.govt.nz304 × 475Search by image 2) Kiwi Fruit Popsicles – Real Recipes from Mums www.mouthsofmums.com.au625 × 430Search by image