native to: Northern China
in season here: winter, but they store well and can be found in supermarkets year-round
Kiwifruit, or Chinese gooseberries, are most commonly either green or golden, the green Hayward Kiwi being the most commonly found in US stores. Their fuzzy skins are edible, although most people prefer not to eat them. Kiwis contain a protein, actinidain, that will tenderize meat and liquefy whipped cream and gelatin. The easiest way to eat a kiwi (other than whole, skin and all) is to cut it in half end scoop the flesh out of the peel like a tiny melon. To peel it, cut off both ends and slip a spoon between the skin and flesh.
The kiwifruit arrived in New Zealand from China at the turn of the 20th century, where they were renamed after the kiwi bird they resemble to avoid an export tax on berries. Kiwi trees, climbing shrubs that can reach 30 feet, can be difficult to establish, but the small-fruited hardy variety can be grown in the Olympia area.
Kiwis provide a huge amount of vitamin C — more than oranges — as well as potassium, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin K, omega-3s, magnesium, copper, and various phytonutrients. They’re particularly good for the upper respiratory and digestive systems, and contain polyphenols that stimulate the immune system. Their polysaccharides boost collagen synthesis, making them good for skin, muscles, and tendons; they also contain lutein, which protects the skin against UV light and prevents eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. Their potassium is good against high blood pressure, while their vitamin K prevents calcium buildup in the arteries, moving it into the bones where it belongs. There’s also plenty of serotonin in there, which is good against insomnia and may boost memory and reduce depression. Kiwis, and especially their seeds, also have antifungal and antibacterial properties. Kiwis retain their nutrients in storage better than many fruits. Kiwis and kiwi roots appear in traditional Chinese medicine in treatments for joint pain, bladder stones, and several cancers.
Kiwis are higher in sugar than oranges, but they have a moderate glycemic index so it’s not that big a problem. The biggest concern is allergies: kiwis are a common allergy, especially among those with latex-fruit syndrome (an allergy to latex and fruit with similar proteins such as avocados and bananas) or allergies to hazelnuts, wheat, figs, or poppy seeds. They can slow blood clotting (good or bad, depending on whether you need to keep your blood thin for your heart or are facing surgery in a week or two). Also, those taking beta-blockers or with other potassium-related concerns should keep kiwis’ high potassium content in mind and save them for a special treat.
They’re not at our market, but Burnt Ridge is a knowledgeable local source for kiwi vines.