Actinidia deliciosa, more commonly known as kiwifruit – or in America simply as kiwi, is a well-traveled little fruit with an identity crisis.
Kiwis originated in the Chang Kiang Valley of China where they were known as Yang Tao ("monkey peach") and cherished as a delicacy by the ruling class. In 1904, Mary Isabel Fraser, an adventurous soul and pioneer of girls’ education in New Zealand, returned home from a trip to China with the seeds of the “Chinese Gooseberry” (her countrymen's name for Yang Tao) in her pocket.
Some of the resulting plants fell into the hands of Auckland nurseryman Hayward Wright. Wright developed the emerald green Chinese Gooseberry, a kiwi variety that has become the globe's most popular and is known commonly as the “Hayward.”
Throughout the 1950’s, Chinese Gooseberries became a huge commercial crop for New Zealand. In 1959, New Zealand exporters prepared to ship the fruits to North America for the first time. In hopes of higher sales, they labeled the fruit “Melonettes”. At the last minute, they learned that melons were subject to higher taxes than other fruits. In a hastily called meeting, an executive in the Turner exporting company dubbed the fruits “kiwifruit” in homage to New Zealand’s national bird; the brown, furry-feathered, flightless Kiwi Bird.
Cultivation of the kiwi spread to the U.S., and in 1970 commercial harvesting began in California.
Thanks to widespread cultivation, kiwis are now affordable and available year round.
The skin of the kiwi is edible -- but I do not recommend it. I tried a few bites and was struck by its similarity to burlap. The flesh of the kiwi, however, is delicious. My favorite way to remove the peel is with a spoon:
1. Cut the ends from a ripe kiwi.
2. Holding the kiwi in one hand, gently wiggle the tip of a spoon between the skin and the flesh of the kiwi.
3. Using the kiwi as a guide, gently run the edge of the spoon under the skin, all of the way around the kiwi.
4. Discard the skin and enjoy!