What we know as the kiwifruit (or just kiwi) today was originally known as the Chinese gooseberry, the edible berry of several species of woody vines in the genus Actinidia. The most common cultivar group of kiwifruit (‘Hayward’) is oval, about the size of a large hen’s egg (2.0-3.1 inches or 5–8 cm in length and 1.8-2.2 inches or 4.5–5.5 cm in diameter). It has a fibrous, dull greenish-brown skin and bright green or golden flesh with rows of tiny, black, edible seeds. The fruit has a soft texture, with a sweet and unique flavor. China produced 56% of the world total of kiwi fruit in 2016.
Although it is most commonly associated with New Zealand, kiwifruit actually originated in the Chang Kiang Valley of China and is native native to north-central and eastern China. The first recorded description of the kiwifruit dates back to the 12th century China during the Song dynasty. Its original name in Chinese, Mihou Tao (“macaque fruit”) refers to the monkeys’ love for it, according to the 16th century Chinese medicine encyclopedia, the Compendium of Materia Medica. Later, it was called Yang Tao, which means ‘sunny peach’. The Chinese used it as a tonic for children and women after childbirth due to its high nutritional value but never truly enjoyed it as a fruit. As it was usually collected from the wild and consumed for medicinal purposes the plant was rarely cultivated or bred.
Actinidia deliciosa was first exported from Asia in the early 1900s as an ornamental vine, perfect for arbors. Seeds were brought to New Zealand in 1904 by Mary Isabel Fraser, the principal of Wanganui Girls’ College, who had been visiting mission schools in China. In 1906, the first of many kiwi trees to come was planted by a Whanganui nurseryman named Alexander Allison and the vines first fruited in 1910. Many more nurserymen and growers began to plant the kiwi fruits starting in Auckland, Wanganui, Fielding, and Tauranga. The fruit was developed into an agricultural commodity through the development of commercially viable cultivars, agricultural practices, shipping, storage and marketing. People thought the fruit had a gooseberry flavor and began to call it the Chinese gooseberry. It is not related to the Grossulariaceae family to which gooseberries belong.
The fruit became popular with British and American servicemen stationed in New Zealand during World War II and later exported first to Great Britain and then to California in the late 1950s. This was the height of the Cold War and the term Chinese gooseberry was a marketing nightmare for a prominent New Zealand exporter, Turners and Growers. Their first idea, ‘melonettes’, was equally unpopular with U.S. importers because melons and berries were subject to high import tariffs. On June 15, 1959, Jack Turner suggested the name kiwifruit during a Turners and Growers management meeting in Auckland. His idea was adopted and this later became the industry-wide name.
With the kiwi making its big debut in the United States in 1959, farmers began to take on the challenge of planting and harvesting this new crop. The first successful kiwi harvest was in 1970 and kiwis have been harvested ever since then. The original kiwifruit, which is green fleshed, met its (commercially) new relative the golden kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis) in 1991. The golden kiwifruit was developed in Te Puke, a small town in northern New Zealand. This variety of kiwifruit is yellow fleshed and has a much thinner skin than the green kiwi.
New Zealanders do not take kindly to the fruit being referred to as a kiwi, preferring kiwifruit. The kiwi is a small flightless hairy brown bird native to New Zealand, and a colloquial term for New Zealanders themselves. Today, even parts of the Chinese-speaking world call the fruit by a partial transliteration of its Oceanic moniker. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, at least, it’s known as strange fruit — qi yi guo in Mandarin, or kei yi gwo in Cantonese.
The Bay of Plenty town of Te Puke, where New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry began, markets itself as the ‘Kiwifruit Capital of the World’. In 2011 Italy was the world’s leading producer of kiwifruit, followed by New Zealand, Chile, Greece, France, the USA and Iran. Most New Zealand kiwifruit is now marketed under the brand-name Zespri, partly as a way to distinguish ‘Kiwi’ kiwifruit from the produce of other countries.
The genus Actinidia contains around 60 species. Though most kiwifruit are easily recognized as kiwifruit (due to basic shape) their fruit is quite variable. The skin of the fruit varies in size, shape, hairiness and color. The flesh varies in color, juiciness, texture and taste. Some fruits are unpalatable while others taste considerably better than the majority of the commercial varieties. The most common kiwifruit is the fuzzy kiwifruit, from the species A. deliciosa. Other species that are commonly eaten include golden kiwifruit (A. chinensis), Chinese egg gooseberry (A. coriacea), hardy kiwifruit (A. arguta), Arctic kiwifruit (A. kolomikta), purple kiwifruit (A. melanandra), silver vine (A. polygama), hearty red kiwifruit (A. purpurea).
Almost all kiwifruit sold belong to a few cultivars of fuzzy kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa): ‘Hayward’, ‘Blake’ and ‘Saanichton 12’. They have a fuzzy, dull-brown skin and bright-green flesh. The familiar cultivar ‘Hayward’ was developed by Hayward Wright in Avondale, New Zealand, around 1924. It was initially grown in domestic gardens, but commercial planting began in the 1940s. ‘Hayward’ is the most commonly available cultivar in stores. It is a large, egg-shaped fruit with a sweet flavor. ‘Saanichton 12’, from British Columbia, is somewhat more rectangular than ‘Hayward’ and comparably sweet, but the inner core of the fruit can be tough. ‘Blake’ can self-pollinate, but it has a smaller, more oval fruit and the flavor is considered inferior.
Kiwi berries are edible berry- or grape-sized fruits similar to the fuzzy kiwifruit in taste and appearance, but with thin, smooth green skin. They are primarily produced by three species of kiwifruit; hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta), Arctic beauty (A. kolomikta) and silver vine (A. polygama). They are fast-growing, climbing vines, durable over their growing season. They are referred to as kiwi berry, baby kiwi, dessert kiwi, grape kiwi, or cocktail kiwi. The cultivar ‘Issai’ is a hybrid of hardy kiwi and silver vine which can self-pollinate. Grown commercially because of its relatively large fruit, Issai is less hardy than most hardy kiwi.
The golden kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis) has a smooth, bronze skin, with a beak shape at the stem attachment. Flesh color varies from bright green to a clear, intense yellow. This species is sweeter and more aromatic in flavor; the flavor is reminiscent of some subtropical fruit. One of the most attractive varieties has a red ‘iris’ around the center of the fruit and yellow flesh outside. The yellow fruit fetches a higher market price and, being less hairy than the fuzzy kiwifruit, is more palatable for consumption without peeling.
A commercially viable variety of this red-ringed kiwifruit, patented as the EnzaRed, is a cultivar of the Chinese hong yang variety.
Hort16A is a golden kiwifruit marketed worldwide in decreasing volumes because this variety suffered significant losses in New Zealand from late 2010 to 2013 due to the PSA bacterium. A new variety of golden kiwifruit, ‘Gold3’, has been found to be more disease-resistant and most growers have now grafted over to this variety. The Gold3 variety, marketed by Zespri as ‘SunGold’, is not quite as sweet as the previous Hort16A, with a hint of tanginess, and lacks the Hort16A’s usually slightly pointy tip.
Kiwifruit is notoriously difficult to pollinate, because the flowers are not very attractive to bees. Some producers blow collected pollen over the female flowers. Generally, the most successful approach, though, is saturation pollination, where the bee populations are made so large (by placing hives in the orchards at a concentration of about 8 hives per hectare) that bees are forced to use this flower because of intense competition for all flowers within flight distance. This is also increased by using varieties specifically developed for pollination.
Kiwifruit is picked by hand and commercially grown on sturdy support structures, as it can produce several tonnes per hectare, more than the rather weak vines can support. These are generally equipped with a watering system for irrigation and frost protection in the spring.
Kiwifruit vines require vigorous pruning, similar to that of grapevines. Fruit is borne on one-year-old and older canes, but production declines as each cane ages. Canes should be pruned off and replaced after their third year. In the northern hemisphere the fruit ripens in November, while in the southern it ripens in May. Four year-old plants can produce up to 14,000 pounds per acre while Eight year-old plants can produce 18,000 pounds per acre. The plants produce their maximum at 8 to 10 years old. The seasonal yields are variable, a heavy crop on a vine one season generally comes with a light crop the following season.
Fruits harvested when firm will ripen when stored properly for long periods. This allows fruit to be sent to market up to 8 weeks after harvest.
Firm kiwifruit ripen after a few days to a week when stored at room temperature, but should not be kept in direct sunlight. Faster ripening occurs when placed in a paper bag with an apple, pear, or banana. Once a kiwifruit is ripe, however, it is preserved optimally when stored far from other fruits, as it is very sensitive to the ethylene gas they may emit, thereby tending to over-ripen even in the refrigerator. If stored appropriately, ripe kiwifruit normally keep for about one to two weeks.
In 2016, global production of kiwifruit was 4.3 million tonnes, led by China with 56% of the world total (2,390,287 tonnes). Italy (523,595 tonnes) and New Zealand (434,048 tonnes) were other major producers. In China, kiwifruit is grown mainly in the mountainous area upstream of the Yangtze River, as well as Sichuan.
Kiwifruit exports rapidly increased from the late 1960s to early 1970s in New Zealand. By 1976, exports exceeded the amount consumed domestically. Outside of Australasia, New Zealand kiwifruits are marketed under the brand-name label, Zespri. In the 1980s, countries outside New Zealand began to export kiwifruit. In Italy, the infrastructure and techniques required to support grape production were adapted to the kiwifruit. This, coupled with being very close to the European kiwifruit market, led to Italians becoming the leading producer of kiwifruit in 1989. The growing season of Italian kiwifruit does not overlap much with the New Zealand or the Chilean growing seasons, therefore direct competition between New Zealand or Chile was not much of a factor.
Kiwifruit may be eaten raw, made into juices, used in baked goods, prepared with meat or used as a garnish. The whole fruit, including the skin, is suitable for human consumption; however, the skin is often discarded due to its texture. Sliced kiwifruit has long been used as a garnish atop whipped cream on pavlova, a meringue-based dessert. Traditionally in China, kiwifruit was not eaten for pleasure, but was given as medicine to children to help them grow and to women who have given birth to help them recover.
Raw kiwifruit contains actinidain (also spelled actinidin) which is commercially useful as a meat tenderizer and possibly as a digestive aid. Actinidain also makes raw kiwifruit unsuitable for use in desserts containing milk or any other dairy products because the enzyme digests milk proteins. This applies to gelatin-based desserts, due to the fact that the actinidain will dissolve the proteins in gelatin, causing the dessert to either liquefy or prevent it from solidifying.
The definitives released by New Zealand Post on December 7, 1983, included five stamps featuring fruit grown in New Zealand — grapes, citrus fruits, nectarines, apples and kiwifruit (Scott #761-765). The stamps (as well as the accompanying first day covers) were designed by D. Little of Auckland and printed on unwatermarked paper by Leigh-Mardon, Australia, using the lithography process, perforated 14¼ x 14 in sheets of 100 stamps.
Grapes, as featured on the 10-cent stamp (Scott #761), have been grown in New Zealand in Poverty Bay, Hawkes Bay, Malborough and Auckland. The growing of grapes for wine-making began in the earliest days of European settlement in New Zealand. The first recorded grapes were planted by Samuel Marsden at Kerikeri, in the Bay of Islands.
Citrus fruit appears on the 20-cent denomination (Scott #762): a tangelo, grapefruit and lemon. The tangelo’s name is derived form two fruits — the tangerine and the pumelo — and probably originated in China and South Eastern Asia about 4,000 years ago. Grown throughout Northland, Bay of Plenty and the North Island’s East Coast, the seminole tangleo is a tart-sweet fruit which grows in consistently heavy crops.
New Zealand’s climate is not hot enough for the true grapefruit varieties of Citrus paradisi, but the so-called grapefruit (or poorman’s orange) tolerates the lower temperature well. This was named goldfruit in 1981 and it was the most important grapefruit type grown mainly in the Bay of Plenty. Predominant varieties of New Zealand lemons are the Villafranca and its close relative the Genoa, also grown mainly in the Bay of Plenty.
The 30-cent stamp (Scott #763) features two varieties of nectarines — Fantasia in the foreground and Red Gold behind. Grown mainly in Central Otago and Hawkes Bay, nectarines, like peaches have a rich golden skin with a crimson blush. However in contrast to the peach’s soft furry skin, the nectarine is smooth.
Apples feature on the 40-cent stamp (Scott #764), the Granny Smith and Braeburn. Granny Smith apples originated in Australia, where a chance seedling was discovered in 1850 by none other than “Granny Smith”. The Braeburn was developed in New Zealand. In 1983, about 90 per cent of apples were harvested in Nelson and Hawkes Bay, with the remainder grown mainly in Otago and Auckland.
Bay of Plenty which has warm sunny days and crisp nights provides an ideal natural environment for kiwifruit growing with the fruit portrayed on the 50-cent denomination (Scott #765).