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Kiwi: The Chinese Gooseberry

by Jamie Diamond

Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods

Winter Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(4) page(s): 7 and 8

Kiwi was the name reserved for a New Zealand bird until 1960 when a commercially unsuccessful fruit known as the Chinese Gooseberry was renamed. Christened kiwifruit, history changed for two species of a woody vine that grew wild and originated in China. Called yang tao, this plant was not only problematic in terms of marketing, it also had even less acceptable names including goat’s peach and sheep’s peach.

Actually, the kiwi has other names such as tara vine and bower berry, and it is not a true gooseberry. It was renamed kiwi purely as a marketing measure to increase sales. This fruit was not unknown in China before its rechristening. Missionaries reported that it tastes similar to a strawberry and can be used to make jam. They called it China gooseberry and Chinese gooseberry. They knew it as food and as a meat tenderizer. Today we know those uses and that it is a component in some sports drinks. We also know that there is minimal information available about the effectiveness of this fruit.

There are four main Chinese types of kiwifruit. They can be as small as a grape or as large as a goose egg. Usually the size of a duck egg, though not as oval, this traditionally brown-skinned fruit, has its origins in the Yangtze valley, also the Chang Kiang valley of China. The largest and most common kind, certainly the one most known outside of China, has bright green flesh and many, many black seeds. Newer cross-bred varieties just entering the marketplace have lighter skins, yellow fruit, even less fuzz on their skins.

This is not a new fruit, just one with a new name and increased popularity. The great Khans relished it and reported on its bright green color. The Monguls considered it a true delicacy. Botanically known as Actinidia chinenesis, this fruit first made its way to New Zealand in the first years of the 20th century, and it was they that recognized its grander potential. In 1847, a collector sent samples to the Royal Horticultural Society in London.

There are many varieties of Actinidiaceae, the arguta, variety is a smaller fruited item and more popular in northern climates. This particular variety, and more than fifty others are found in various southeast Asian countries and in China. Perhaps you have read about some of them as they are sometimes called Manchurian salty gooseberries. That is because the smaller varieties are often preserved in salt or pickled in brine.

Popular in China, one hundred thousand metric tons are gathered from the wild and more recently the larger ones are also grown in orchards. This fruit was first exported to the United States in 1904. In 1935, agricultural testing began, and the year it was renamed, 1960, commercially grown kiwis from several countries, found their way into the American and other markets. Twenty years later, in 1984, kiwi was considered the hottest produce item of the year in the western world, available and produced in New Zealand, the United States, Italy, Japan, France, Greece, Spain, Australia, Chile, and of course in China.

The Chinese have four main and many other or different classifications and names for this fruit. The most important ones are: zhang hua or Chinese gooseberry. These are round to oval and the most common variety; they are yellow, green, and shades inbetween. The jing li is better known as the northern pear gooseberry and it is elongated, oval, green, and with smooth leaves. The ruan zao, is known as the soft date gooseberry and it is a small-fruited variety with green flesh. The mao hua has green flesh and elongated leaves Though most commonly known by its brown color in the United States, Japan, and western Europe, the skin can be yellowish, yellow-green, yellow-brown, or brown.

The kiwi, also known as kiwifruit, is quite different from tree fruits such as apples, peaches and pears. That is because it is not a stone fruit but rather a true berry with many seeds in it. Another difference is that it is more nutritious than other fruits, its seeds carrying its vitamins and minerals. However, unlike many fruits, the seeds are delicate and easy to chew, the skin is edible, though most people peel them, and the leaves are edible, as well.

A typical large kiwi averages nearly three inches in length and weighs two to four ounces. As it is a small fruit, one kiwi may not be enough to be considered a serving, especially when peeled. This fruit is very sweet and does not require additional sugar to sweeten or enhance its flavor.

The Chinese believe the kiwi a tonic for growing children, recommend it for women after childbirth. They also recommend it for the elderly but never suggest eating many because they know that some are allergic or have a hypersensitivity particularly in the mouth, and too much causes some to vomit immediately after ingestion. Western medical science knows that the kiwi may interfere with lab tests because of its high levels of serotonin.

There are many ways to eat a kiwi, but no matter the way you select, be sure that it is ripe. If you keep them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks to induce them to soften, then put them on the counter for a few days, you do improve their flavor and their sweetness.

One can slice a kiwi in half, quarter it like an apple, slice it like a banana or dice it like tomatoes. For those who want to use it as a meat tenderizer, crush it and add it to any marinade. This berry-fruit increases flavor and livens up any stir-fried dish. It is an excellent source of vitamin C as it has twice the amount as an orange of equal size. It contains magnesium which is important for cardiovascular health, has more potassium than a banana, is low in sodium, and is a significant source of folic acid, copper and manganese; and it has many phytochemicals to slow progression of several diseases.

The kiwi also contains electrolytes, essential during strenuous exercise and in very hot weather. In China, a kiwi-based sports drink is given to athletes training in the summer to improve their endurance and quench their thirst. This gooseberry--now called kiwi--is one of four fruits that offer the best balance of nutrients per calorie and its extract has been shown to inhibit some types of melanoma. The kiwi is ranked as having the fourth highest natural antioxidant effect next to the red fruits and vegetables due to its high amount of beta-carotene.

The kiwi offers many benefits ranging from fighting the common cold to helping protect against deadly diseases. It is tasty, low in calories, and can be used in a variety of recipes. While much more research is needed, reaching for a kiwi can help you and enhance your Chinese cooking.
Jamie Diamond is a registered dietitian/Certified Dietitian Nutritionist and a member of the American Dietetics Association and the American Diabetes Association who will soon have a Masters Degree in Family, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences. For the past three years she has been working with and enjoying geriatric populations; for many years more than that, learning about and enjoying Chinese food.
Three-fruited Beef
1/2 pound flank steak
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon corn oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt and white pepper, mixed
2 scallions, dice white and green parts separately
2 teaspoons corn oil
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1 slice fresh or canned pineapple, cut in half-inch pieces
1/2 cup cherries, pitted
1. Cut meat in thin strips, mash two slices of kiwi, and mix these together and set aside for fifteen minutes.
2. Mix soy sauce, cornstarch, and teaspoon amounts of the corn and sesame oils, salt and pepper, and minced white part of the scallions and mix with the meat mixture. Let sit for another fifteen minutes.
3. Heat corn oil and fry the ginger until fragrant, about half a minute, then add meat mixture and cook until the meat starts to loose its pink color. Add wine and all three fruits and heat through. Remove from the pan and serve.
Spare Ribs with Kiwi
2 kiwi, peeled and sliced
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1 pound spare ribs cut into one-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 fresh green chili or 1 dried red one, seeded and diced
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
a dash of salt
1. Mash half a kiwi and mix with soy sauce and sugar, then add the ribs and let sit for half an hour.
2. Heat oil. Add cornstarch to the rib mixture then stir-fry them on low to medium heat until almost golden brown. Then add the chili and continue stir-frying until the meat is fully cooked, about twenty minutes in total.
3. Add pepper and salt and mix well, then add the rest of the kiwi and cook for half a minute, and then serve.
Fruit and Vegetable Soup with Fish
1/2 pound cod filet, sliced into thin strips
1 teaspoon ginger juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 cups chicken broth
1 slice fresh ginger, cut into slivers
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, sliced
1/2 cup water chestnuts, sliced
1 cup Chinese cabbage, sliced thin
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked for twenty minutes then sliced, reserving the liquid
1/4 cup mandarin oranges
1 kiwi, peeled, sliced, then diced
1. Mix fish, ginger juice, salt, sugar, rice wine, cornstarch, and sesame oil.
2. Bring broth to simmer, add fish mixture, and all other ingredients except the kiwi and heat thoroughly, then add kiwi and serve.

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