Fun fact: The kiwifruit is named after the Kiwi bird, the national animal of New Zealand.
Other fun fact: The kiwi fruit originated nowhere near the island nation.
Turns out, these little guys have a lot to hide under their fuzzy skins – including a number of different tasty varieties.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…
So where, exactly, did the kiwifruit originate?
That would be China, the blessedly fertile region that brought us so many delectable fruits like oranges, apricots and pears.
Still, the round little fruits weren’t exactly well-loved in their native land. In fact, kiwis weren’t cultivated in China at all, with locals leaving all of the gardening work up to Mother Nature instead.
And even when they were eaten there, kiwifruits were more medicine than munchy, with ancient Chinese medicinal practices prescribing the fruit to children, to help them grow, and to women who had recently given birth, to help them heal. (Those medical claims have yet to be verified by Western medicine, though studies have shown that kiwifruits are harbingers of some seriously helpful enzymes that help us break down meat and milk proteins and work as a digestive aid generally.)
Indeed, kiwis didn’t make their way out of China until the 1940s, when a group of Chinese missionaries brought a few seeds with them on a trip Down Under. But once they arrived in New Zealand, their popularity took off like the flightless bird they were eventually renamed after never could.
Kiwifruit has been a seemingly unstoppable force ever since, finding its way in the midst of fruit salad mixes everywhere, on top of desserts like pavlova (which, unlike the fruit, was very much created in New Zealand), and in a number of other healthy treats, like smoothies.
And it seems keen gardeners everywhere have made up for lost time, developing over 50 different varieties of kiwifruit.
Birds of a Feather
That’s right, the widespread cultivation of the world’s cutest fruit can be chalked up to nearly an afterthought, or at the very best a well-placed hunch.
Kiwifruits – or Actinidia, as they’re scientifically known – were not much of a hit in their native China, despite being routinely collected there since at least the 12th century.
The fruits were primarily known at the time as a medicinal plant, used to make healthful elixirs but rarely considered a snack – and even more rarely grown on purpose. If one wanted a kiwi, they would have to go into the wild, foraging for the fruit straight from the woody vine.
It wasn’t until the 1940s that kiwis got their big break, when a group of Chinese missionaries thought to take a few seeds with them on a trip to New Zealand.
The island nation became so smitten with the imported fruit, its nickname was officially changed from “Chinese Gooseberry” to the word for New Zealand’s national bird. And it wasn’t long before soldiers stationed in the Pacific during World War II discovered the newly-minted kiwi, bringing tales of and a taste for the bright green fruit back with them to Europe and America.
The kiwi craze that followed has only seen the fruits numbers continue to grow, and the little plant that nearly couldn’t has since found itself among the brightest stars of the superfruit sect today.
All told, there are more than 50 types of kiwifruit out there now, cementing the plant’s popularity around the globe.
Some of the most popular types of kiwis include:
Essentially the original recipe, these are the types of kiwis you know and love from the grocery store.
Fuzzy kiwifruits sport the plant’s signature brown fuzzy skin – which tastes a bit tart but is technically edible!
Roughly the size and shape of a large egg, these fruits reveal a brilliant bright green on the inside, as well as the kiwi’s distinctive ring of black seeds.
And there are a number of fuzzy kiwi cultivars to choose from, including the “Blake” varietal, a Canadian cultivar called “Saanichton 12,” and the “Hayward” type of kiwi, by far the world’s most well-known version of the plant.
Once again, kiwi namers give it all away up front, with these sub-species called after their predominate trait.
Hardy kiwis are hardwired to survive in colder climates like the Pacific Northwest, where they’re widely grown, thanks to a more frost-resistant skin and ability to sprout up in shorter seasons.
One of the most recently developed genre of kiwifruit, these types of kiwis are actually hairless, and usually rock a green skin outside – though inside, they pack an even bigger taste than their brown, fuzzy friends.
The Ananasnaya varietal is perhaps the most popular type of hardy kiwifruit, and one of the most unique types of kiwis to boot, rocking a purplish-red flesh that’s extra fragrant. But other hardy kiwi cultivars include the Dumbarton Oaks, Geneva and Issai varietals.
Even more hardy than the hardy kiwi is the artic kiwifruit – the toughest kiwi of all. (Sorry, Karl Urban!)
Fruits on these wooden vines are, by necessity, smaller and sparser than their more warm-blooded cousins, since it takes so much energy to grow at all in such cold conditions. But the fruits that do blossom are widely considered to be some of the sweetest types of kiwis of all.
Arctic kiwis also rock distinctive white and pink leaves that make them stand out as a touch of warmth in their snowy environments.
Some of the most popular types of arctic kiwis include the wonderfully-named Krupnopladnaya varietal, as well as the Pautske cultivar.
Not just the name for New Zealand’s most shining citizens.
These kinds of kiwis are actually among the rarest types of the fruit, actually requiring a bit of sun and warmth to grow off the vine.
But what golden kiwis lack in prevalence, they make up for with pizzazz.
The fruits are aptly named, rocking a beautiful smooth bronze skin, and a striking flesh that’s colored anywhere from bright green to a clear, intense yellow. Some golden kiwis even include a splashy dash of red around their ring of black seeds.
Still, these types of kiwis aren’t quite as golden when it comes to avoiding sickness, with a few major cultivars recently falling prey to a deadly bacteria. But the sub-species carries on, through hardier examples like the EnzaRed varietal and the SunGold cultivar.
Another aptly-named varietal, this type of kiwi truly is a sight to see, with a skin that reads as a lovely deep red and an inside that can hit the most beautiful tone of its namesake color.
Still, it may be all aesthetics for this kiwi cultivar, as purple kiwis are very rarely grown in general – and typically only used ornamentally when they are grown.
Silver Vine Kiwis
Preferring the mountainous areas of China and Japan over the temperate tropics of New Zealand, these types of kiwifruits are natural climbers – so it’s only right they’re named after their ladder-like vines.
The fruits themselves take on more of an acorn shape than the traditional kiwi egg look, but taste every bit as sweet and delicious, typically being used for everything from their flesh to their juice to their leaves and buds, which are used in some areas of Asia to make teas or medicinal powders.
Technically a cross between a hardy and arctic kiwi variety, these types of kiwis are for anyone who wished these little round fruits could somehow be even more adorable.
Kiwi berries actually resemble grapes a bit more than kiwis, growing in similar bunches off their vines and lacking the fruit’s signature brown outside and fuzz.
Instead, their skin is paper thin, smooth and green, and their bite reveals a burst of supersweet juice.
And befitting of their size and taste, they’ve come to acquire a few nicknames, including the grape kiwi, the baby kiwi and the dessert kiwi.
But no matter what you call these fantastic fruits, the fact remains that kiwis might be the world’s tastiest accident.