For a short, but brief time, feijoa fans get to indulge their sweetest - unique, aromatic - desires. Paul Little finds out more about the polarising fruit.
The feijoa season is almost upon us. They come to maturity around the middle of March and, before long, are rotting on the ground or piling up on reception area front desks as owners of backyard trees try to dispose of the glut.
They're as Kiwi as chinese gooseberries but how much do we really know about this seemingly innocuous fruit?
We know that the New Zealand Feijoa Growers Association is a group of around 20 members with 250ha in crop, according to president Roger Matthews. Most, like Matthews, are small lifestyle block owners or older people not looking for a full-time role. He says the fruit is a good bet, being relatively hardy with no major pests or diseases. The biggest challenge growers face is developing an export market due to difficulties with transporting them.
But how they got here is itself something of a mystery, says Matthews, who quotes a theory that they were taken by French botanist/missionaries from their original home around Brazil and Uruguay to the south of France, then some trees went to Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom and from there were brought to New Zealand.
Here are some other things we know:
That's an unusual name you have
The feijoa is named after Portuguese naturalist, Joao da Silva Feijo. Confusingly, Feijo was not his real name. He changed it from Joao da Silva Barbosa to honour prominent philosopher Benito Jeronimo Feijoo.
Apart from their South American home countries, feijoas are popular in New Zealand and almost nowhere else. In fact, they are practically unknown in other countries. Although cuisinevault.com says they can be found in Russia and Iran and there are reports of them being grown as far north as Scotland.
It's hard to pin down their "unique, aromatic flavour", which could be described as a cross between a pear, pineapple and guava - cuisinevault again. Passionfruit, strawberries, mint and banana have also been mentioned as reference points, as though the poor fruit doesn't know what it's trying to do. Feijoas are polarising too; enthusiasts are evangelistic about them but there are many people who would say describing them as "unique" is euphemistic.
References to feijoas show up in local media from about the mid-1930s. The New Zealand Herald suggested growing a feijoa hedge in 1933 and described them four years later as "an evergreen apricot" originating in Argentina and Egypt.
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As well as being enjoyed straight off the tree – and, yes, you can eat the skin and thereby gain even more nutritional benefit – feijoas have long been a baker's favourite, used in sponges, fools and crumbles. They can be substituted for apples in many recipes. They are especially popular made into chutney, relish and jam. Home-cooking goddess Tui Flower included a recipe for feijoa jelly in her 1968 Tui Flower's Cookbook. The flowers can be used in salads.
In its "News of the Day" briefs for May 29, 1946, the Northern Advocate reported that a Mr H.L. Haden of Whangarei had grown a feijoa that weighed 5 ounces (140g) and was 7¾ inches (19 cm) in circumference. Sixty-nine years later, the record for the biggest feijoa known to history – at least, in the provinces – went to one Heather Smith, who arrived at Hawke's Bay Today's Hastings newsroom with, said the paper, "a bounty of the behemoth fruit - the heaviest weighing 385 grams".
Diversity in action
The feijoa family of products now includes jam, jelly and chutney. You can also get chocolate, marshmallows, and, inevitably, sparkling soft drinks, liqueur, beer, cider and several varieties of wine, smoothies, green tea and fudge. There is also a naturally brewed feijoa kombucha tea. And you can find them freeze-dried or flavouring frozen yoghurt and icecream.
Feijoas are compact nutritional powerhouses, at just 55 calories per 100g (bananas have 89 calories per 100g). A feijoa provides nearly half the daily allowance of vitamin C and contains just 1 per cent fat.
What rhymes with feijoa?
Not a lot but that hasn't stopped some of our finest poets from finding inspiration in them, such as former poet laureate Michele Leggott, author of Nice Feijoas. There's less sophisticated versifying on the Fruit for Kids website:
A tiny avocado? No, I'm not!
I'm a feijoa and I grow where it's hot.
Pineapple guava is my other name.
South America, New Zealand is whence I came.
Treat into treatment
Dr Andrew Munkacsi, writing on sciblogs.co.nz, describes his work in developing an antifungal remedy from feijoa targeting especially vaginal yeast infections, oral thrush or athlete's foot. Such fungi can develop resistance to traditional antifungal treatments and feijoas may hold the solution.
Trade Me, of course
In 2014 a "conjoined love heart-shaped" piece of fruit was auctioned on the site to raise money for Heart Kids Canterbury.