Sunday, July 20, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Passion Fruit

     This one might not seem to fit my exotic/disgusting guidelines, but hear me out.  Yes, passion fruit flavoring, whether actual juice or artificial chemical approximates, has become fairly common in fruit drinks over the last decade or so, but until a week ago I’d never seen the fruit itself for sale.  So when I saw it at the local Shop Rite I quickly snapped it up.
     Passion fruit is South American in origin.  In fact, it’s the national flower of Paraguay.  But because it grows readily in other tropical and subtropical environments, it’s now cultivated across Central America, the southern U.S. and Hawaii, Africa, South Asia, and Australia/New Zealand.
     It comes in two main variants—yellow and purple.  The yellow kind is larger (it can be about the same size as a grapefruit) and has a more strong, sour taste.  The purple sort is smaller, more the size of a large plum, and has a sweeter flavor.  People both eat the fruit and drink the juice.  As mentioned before, it’s a common additive to other juice medleys, for its pleasing aroma and flavor.  In New Zealand and Australia they even make a soft drink from its flavor, called “passiona.”  And in Israel it’s even used in wine.  Nutritionally it’s a solid choice, as it has significant amounts of B vitamins, Vitamin C and A, potassium, fiber, and iron.  Some claim it might have medicinal uses, but, as I’ve typed seemingly dozens of time before, these benefits haven’t yet been proven scientifically.
     But the thing that leaps out is its name.  I always assumed (and I guess this says something about me) that the “passion” was sexually-related.  I figured it got the name because centuries ago it was thought to be an aphrodisiac, and/or an early fruit version of Viagra.  It turns out I was completely wrong.  It’s actually from “passion” as in the suffering of Jesus, in Christian theology.  It’s based on the plant’s dramatic flower, and is quite intricate.  To whit, the pointed tips of the leaves are seen to represent the Holy Lance (used to wound Jesus on the cross).  The tendrils are seen as stand ins for the whips used to scourge Christ.  The ten petals/sepals are representative of the ten loyal Disciples (Peter (temporarily) denied knowing Jesus, and Judas was the betrayer).  The radial filaments of the flower are supposed to be the Crown of Thorns.  The chalice-shaped ovary with receptacle is seen as the Holy Grail.  The three stigmas are the three nails hammered into Jesus, and the five anthers below are the five wounds Jesus suffered—four by the nails (one caused two wounds as it passed through both ankles) and one by the Lance.  Finally, the white and blue color of the flower is representative of purity and Heaven.
     This is kind of cool in a complicated way, but it makes me wonder—have people interpreted other flowers in this way?  Is there a flower with say, three petals (for 1903), two stigmas (for the pair of brothers), twelve tendrils (North Carolina was the 12th state to ratify the Constitution), plane-shaped leaves, and which grows on sandy beaches, which could be called the First Flight Flower?  Do other plants' flower parts “predict” or represent the Black Death, the Moon Landing, the birth of disco, etc.?  I think that a joint venture of botanists and historians should waste lots of time investigating this.
     Anyway, back to the fruit itself.  The two I bought looked pretty sorry.  They looked like plums that had been beaten and then abandoned in Death Valley.  They were purple and extremely dried out—their skin was falling into itself and almost looked warty.  Cutting them open wasn’t too difficult, and the inside rind was white.  Then, inside this was a phlegm yellow, loose fruit mixed with innumerable greenish seeds.  The seeds are edible, which is fortunate, as separating them from the pulp would be a real pain in the butt.  I’m happy to report that despite its grotesque appearance, passion fruit is quite good.  Slightly tart, but in a positive way.  As advertised, the odor is pleasant as well.  They were a bit expensive—one fruit, which yielded several tablespoons of pulp, was about $2—but I didn’t feel cheated.  I would have this again.
     In closing, just to show diversity in cultures, several countries—Japan, Greece, and Israel—interpret the passion flower’s appearance differently.  They call it the clock flower, or clock plant.  And in India the blue passion flower is called Krishnakamala, as its parts correspond with some aspects of the Divine Krishna.

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