Because it is so juicy, zesty, colorful and loaded with good stuff, kiwifruit is one of nature’s best tonics for winter. It’s also delicious, versatile and is great for kayakers who are on the go and want to get the most out of their daily snacks and meals while they paddle.
I remember my first contact with the strange little hairy brownish fruit: it was back in 1976, in high school, when a classmate had brought in a couple of these exotic fruits. I was in awe when he sliced it in two, staring at that green fluorescent flesh speckled with small black seeds, which, I would later learn, are loaded with precious vitamin E. The flavor immediately reminded me of a cross between strawberries and pineapples and I was overwhelmed by the splash of tart freshness. But, at the same time I felt some numbness on the lips accompanied by a mild burning in the throat, the exact same feeling as when I ate fresh pineapple. I would learn later people with an allergy to pollen are prone to a mild allergic reaction to kiwifruit because of its high content of actinidin enzymes, a substance that also gives kiwis, papayas and pineapples their tenderizing abilities (handy when dealing with a tough cut of meat). Experts say this mild form of allergy to kiwifruit is rarely dangerous.
Kiwifruits were first imported to North America from New Zealand in the 1950s and 60s. California growers later began cultivating kiwifruits themselves in order to supply the American and Canadian markets. In the early 80s California cuisine was a new trend and the exotic new fruit was de rigueur. Since then, the popularity of kiwifruits has exploded, with a million tons sold each year throughout our small planet. It is now grown not only in California and New Zealand, but also in Italy (second biggest producer in the world), Greece, France, Chili, Japan and China. In the northern hemisphere, it is grown from May to October, whereas in New Zealand and Chili, the season is from October to May, allowing us to enjoy it year-round.
The kiwifruit originated in China, and has been cultivated there for centuries almost exclusively in the Chang Jiang Valley, a protected area of the north close to Burma. China is also the only country where one can find different varieties of kiwifruits of all shapes, sizes and colors. For centuries, it was considered a delicacy offered only to the richest of the rich. It is only early in the 20th century that it was introduced to New Zealand. First called Chinese gooseberry because of its tart taste similar to that of the little shiny berry, it has been renamed kiwifruit in honor of the emblematic bird of New Zealand, which, apparently, bears a certain resemblance to the fruit. In the late 1950s, kiwifruit finally crossed the Pacific to become a naturalized American citizen. Freida Caplan, a pioneer in introducing exotic specialties to the United States, is credited with popularizing kiwis here.
When taste encounters health
But if kiwifruit has become so popular in recent years, there’s more to it than its exotic appeal and its delicious taste. Serious scientific research has revealed its amazing health properties. This economical fruit that’s easy to prepare and carry in non-collapsible containers during a paddling expedition contains only 50 calories and packs almost twice as much vitamin C than an orange. It contains potassium (almost the same quantity as a banana) and fibers (2.7 g per kiwi). It is also extremely rich in various polyphenols. Those are antioxydant components that can repair damage done to our cells by pollution, free radicals or stress. According to recent studies, this amazing cocktail of protective barriers against oxygen-related damage linked to many phytonutrients is so strong that it seems to have the ability to protect our DNA against degeneration. Researchers are not yet sure what is the exact combination that provides this precious protection, but they are sure it does not depend on the regular vitamins and minerals found in kiwifruit. It’s rather the flavonoids and caratenoids that are at work here. An important study conducted in Italy among children with severe asthma also showed that kiwi had a strong protective effect against asthma. The more kiwis these kids consumed, the less-likely they were to experience respiratory problems. The same goes for macular degeneration, strokes and blood clots.
How to buy, store and prepare kiwifruit
Kiwifruit will keep easily for two weeks in your fridge and easily 5 to 7 days during a paddling expedition. Just remember to buy kiwifruits that are not soft to the touch or bruised and keep them in the fridge. If they are not ripe enough, place in a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple for a day or two. And because kiwifruits become easily soggy when cut, add them at the very last minute to your favorite fruit salad or breakfast cereals. Finally, remember that just like papayas and pineapples, they also have amazing tenderizing properties, which make them an easy tool to marinate tough cuts of meat.
Kiwi salsa for paddlers (for chicken, grilled tofu, shrimps, fish or grilled pork)
- (4 to 6 portions)
- 1 large kiwi, thinly chopped
- 1 large mango, thinly chopped
- 1 small can of pineapples in their own juice (drained) and chopped
- 1 small red onion, chopped (or 3 green onions)
- Fresh coriander to taste (or dry coriander if you’re travelling)
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil (or olive oil)
- A dash of hot pepper sauce
- Salt to taste
Mix all ingredients and serve with any white meat, seafood, fish or tofu. It is also very good as a base for a salad. Just add greens with canned tuna or canned chicken.
Kiwi Breakfast Shake An ideal breakfast before a demanding paddling session
- 2 to 3 large portions
- 2 kiwis
- 1 banana
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 3 tbsp toasted wheat germ
- 1 cup vanilla or plain soy beverage (or yogurt)
- 1/2 cup ice
Put all ingredients in a blender, except soy milk (or yogurt) and ice. Mix well at high speed until liquefied. Add soy milk or yogurt and ice and crush well. If you use plain soy milk or yogurt, you might want to add a tbsp of honey or maple syrup. Serve immediately with a bagel or whole wheat English muffin.