HISTORY AND CULTURE
Kiwi - Fruit or Bird?
01 Aug 2013 06.47 am by K. Daniel
Growing up overseas meant that I had to familiarize myself with the English language. Although it was the first thing I learned, the difference in culture meant that I had to adapt to speak the local tongue. Subsequently, I had to gain exposure in order to maintain a certain level of competence when it came to speaking English, and this was achieved through various media such as newsprint, television, magazines, and various books.
As I continued to progress, the various resources available to me has allowed for the exposure of a wide scope of ideas, hypothesises, and cultural awareness. One of the more philosophical ideas that I started off with was on which came first, the chicken or the egg?
It is a relatively simple concept, a causal dilemma if you will, although on further observation it has much larger implications, such as the origins of all life as we know it. Less heavy philosophical dilemma, more quirky trivia, was a question me and my friends once asked, which came first, the fruit or the bird?
What I'm referring to here is the Kiwi. Kiwis are a native bird to New Zealand, well known for their small size, long, pointy beak, and being flightless. These elusive birds are also the national symbol of New Zealand, being endemic to the Island country.
By contrast, the Kiwifruit is a small fruit with green or yellow flesh and multiple black seeds surrounding a white coloured core. The skin colour is a dark olive coloration, with fine hairs on the exterior, and is about the size and shape of a large chicken egg.
I've often pondered which got its name first. Did the bird get its name because of its apparent shape and colour was similar to the fruit, or the fruit because of its similarity to the bird?
Kiwifruits, although widely popular in New Zealand, originally was grown in Southern China where it was known locally as yáng táo. Wider cultivation occurred around the 20th century, where the seeds were brought back by a Mary Isabel Fraser, a teacher (and later, principal) of Wanganui Girl's College after her trip to Ichang, China, in 1904. It was then cultivated by Wanganui nurserymen Alexander Allison in 1906, whose early experiments with the seeds kick started the global Kiwi trade.
Originally, New Zealand adopted the local Chinese name whilst marketing the fruits for sale, however as popularity steadily increased after its introduction to the market, a different name was used instead, namely Chinese Gooseberry. Several stores today still market the fruits as such, although this is becoming less common.
The Kiwifruit got its current name after World War 2, at which point the export market began to grow. One of the target export countries, the United States, had less than favourable relations with China at that time period, and thus for marketing purposes they had to alter the name in order to avoid negative associations with the fruit.
Ziel & Co., the importing company based in California, rejected the initial marketing attempts under "melonettes", reasoning that at the time melons and berries carried heavy taxes, which would potentially deter sales. In 1959, Jack Turner of Turners and Growers, one of the largest exporting companies for the fruits at the time, suggested the name Kiwifruit after the national symbol of New Zealand. Ever since then, it became an industry-wide standard name and adopted by many.
Today there are three commonly eaten species of Kiwifruit out of the 60 that exist, the standard Fuzzy Kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa), the Golden Kiwifruit (A. chinensis), and the Hardy/Baby Kiwifruit (A. arguta).
The standard variety of Kiwifruit you would most often encounter is probably the Fuzzy Kiwifruit, a medium sized green fleshed fruit. The dark olive green skinned fruit has fine hairs on its exterior, and a slightly thicker skin than the other two species discussed here.
The Golden Kiwifruit is about of similar size to the Fuzzy, but possesses less hair and so considered to be more palatable. It also tends to be of a more oval, ¡°slimmer¡± shape with a more distinguishable point (stem) than the plump standard Fuzzy. The most striking trait of this fruit is the light green to bright yellow flesh, which is sweeter and more aromatic than normal green Kiwis. One variety of this species has an attractive red ring around the seed region, patented as EnzaRed™.
Finally, the Hardy/Baby Kiwifruit got its name from the hardy nature of the plant, which grows small, grape sized fruits. The flavour and appearance is akin to the Fuzzy Kiwifruit variety but with thinner, smooth skin.
Kiwifruits are often picked and allowed to ripen for several days and up to a week. Similar to bananas and apples for example, the fruit becomes more aromatic, sweeter, and the flesh more tender as it ages. The process is faster when these are stored in an airtight container together with other kiwis or fruits such as bananas, apples, and peaches.
Storage time averages between one and two weeks, slower at lower temperatures, and although quality will mostly be determined by how sweet and how soft you enjoy eating your fruits, ripened fruits should yield slightly when pressed. Over ripe fruits may develop a darker, wet looking appearance within the flesh, although these are perfectly acceptable to eat. Visually the skin does not change as much as the fruit ripens, neither there is a distinct smell unlike peaches and other stone fruits.
Flavour of the ripe fruit is sweet, especially the Golden variety which has a honey-like quality to it. The green Fuzzy Kiwifruits are more tart, especially when under ripe. Another notable quality of a fruit is that when under ripe, the core, which is the white area surrounded by seeds, tend to be harder and more fibrous. When fully ripe, a juicy green Kiwi should be appreciably sweeter with a refreshing hint of sourness. The New Zealand Kiwis would approve.
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