Sunday, September 21, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Kiwi Berries

     The other day I was wandering through the fruit section of the local Whole Foods grocery, and beheld something new.  Kiwi berries.  Or, according to the package label, “passion poppers,” which are, “nutrient dense super fruit.”  Well, that sounded intriguing to me, so I handed over my $3 or so, and took them back to the “home-tel.”
     At first, I figured that these were some sort of berry that was vaguely kiwi-like, but after doing a little checking, the name is actually pretty accurate.  Kiwi berries are a relative of the better known kiwi fruit.  There are, however, some screamingly obvious distinctions.  Kiwi fruits, of course, are about the size of a chicken egg, and they have greenish, tart flesh, which is heavily seeded, all surrounded by a weird, brownish, hairy rind.  Kiwi berries, on the other hand, are small—about an inch (or about 2.5 cm.) in diameter, and from the outside they look like tiny, unripe (green) apples.  (They actually remind me a lot of crab apples in their outside appearance—see May 14, 2012 post.)  Inside, though, they look remarkably identical to kiwi fruit—the same greenish flesh, and a ring of black seeds in the center.  Unlike their larger relative, you don’t have to take the rind off.  You can just bite into them as is.  So, in effect, the kiwi berry is the Mini-Me to kiwi fruit.
     Kiwi fruit, and kiwi berries, are rather odd, when you think about it.  Fruit, especially those packed with Vitamin C (as are all the kiwi types), tend to be delicate, surviving mostly in tropical environments.  Not so for our kiwi friends.  Kiwi fruit is originally from Northern China, and the berry form is indigenous to Northern China, Japan, Korea, and even Siberia.  Yes, the place probably best known for being the most infamous home of the gulag, one of the harshest climates on Earth.  Kiwi fruit and kiwi berries have gone through many name changes in their existence.  Yang tao, Chinese gooseberries, melonettes, and arctic berry are just some of them.  Once they were introduced and thrived in New Zealand, marketers decided to name them after the famous New Zealand bird, and that’s been the most common name title ever since.  And, in addition to Vitamin C, kiwi fruit/berries are good sources of fiber and Vitamins B, E, and K.
     But, on to the important point—how were they?  Pretty good, as it turns out.  Folks often claim that they’re slightly sweeter than kiwi fruit, and I can agree with that.  The rind gives them a slightly different texture, and taste, too—kind of an apple-ish tint to them.  I don’t eat much kiwi fruit, because due to living mostly in hotels, without access to food processing equipment for easy peeling, (and also out of laziness), I find getting rid of the hairy rind to be a bit annoying.  Happily, the edible skin of the kiwi berry is a winning compromise.  Convenient, and in an easy bite size.  This is the first and only time I’ve ever seen them for sale, but I will certainly buy them again if I have the chance.
     Kiwi fruit, and the berry form, do have one final odd quirk, though.  They have a significant amount of an enzyme called actinidain.  This enzyme readily dissolves protein, so much so that it’s used as a meat tenderizer.  Therefore, if you put raw kiwi fruit/berries in desserts containing milk or gelatin, it might dissolve them.  (Part of me wants to deliberately do this, just to observe the unusual site of fruit “consuming” the rest of a dessert.)  This enzyme is probably also the cause of food allergies to bananas, pineapples, and papaya, and the non-food, bodily contact allergy to latex.  So if you’re allergic to any of these, you’ll probably also be so for kiwi fruit/berries.

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