Kiwi looks unusual to many Americans. They are about the size of a hen’s egg and are covered with a thin, brownish skin that often has fine, fuzzy hairs. A kiwi fruit can be safely eaten with the skin on if it is properly washed, but most people prefer to peel it and eat only the inner green flesh.
Kiwi fruit are especially popular in New Zealand, Australia and much of Polynesia, although they were originally cultivated in ancient China. The first seeds were exported from China to New Zealand via missionaries in the early 1900s when at the time they were called Chinese gooseberries. The fruit was later renamed after New Zealanders, who are goodheartedly nicknamed "Kiwis" after a unique, flightless bird indigenous to their islands. So, both the kiwi bird and kiwi fruit are treasured in New Zealand..
The species name for kiwi fruit is Actinidia chinensis, although there are a couple of main sub-types. One type is smooth skinned and looks sort of like a small potato in color and texture. The other type is furry skinned and does look like a baby kiwi bird from a distance, but without the little beak. Both types are about the same size and can be bought in grocery stores. The furry type is more common in the United States, but most of the fine hairs fall off after picking, handling and packaging. The furry variety is also known for its tangy and juicy, green flesh that’s speckled with tiny black seeds. Smooth-skinned varieties have either green or yellow flesh.
Eating Kiwi Fruit
Eating a kiwi fruit like a plum, skin and all, is not uncommon in New Zealand or Australia, but it’s probably a far rarer in North America because the little hairs and texture are somewhat unappealing. Furthermore, most Americans haven’t been exposed to the fruit for as long as New Zealanders. A more common method of eating a kiwi fruit is cutting it in half and spooning out the fruit like you would a hard-boiled egg still in the shell. This method is especially easy if the inner fruit is ripe and soft. If the fruit is unripe and a bit harder, peeling it like an apple and cutting it into slices is likely easier. The skin is slightly thicker than apple skin but much thinner than orange peel. Kiwi flesh contains some salicylic acid, so be cautious and consult your doctor if you are allergic to aspirin.
The flesh of kiwi fruit is especially rich in vitamin C, but it is also a good source of vitamin E, folate, lutein, potassium and soluble fiber. In fact, ounce for ounce, kiwis contain more vitamin C than oranges or any other citrus fruit. In contrast, the skin of kiwi fruit is rich in insoluble fiber and also contains some folate and flavonoids, which are antioxidant compounds that destroy free radicals. Insoluble fiber promotes regular bowel movements and deters constipation.
If you are considering eating the entire kiwi fruit, skin and all, then wash it carefully to remove the possible presence of pesticide residues, bacteria and tiny eggs of fruit flies or other insects. If you find the fuzz undesirable, rub it with a damp cloth for a few seconds to get rid of it. Kiwis are tangy and tart like strawberries, so they go well with sweet desserts and provide some balance. Try them as a topping for a custard fruit tart.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.