Hailing from Brazil, passionfruit thrive in New Zealand, but demand just the right conditions. A healthy backyard vine hanging heavy with purple fruit invokes envy throughout the neighbourhood. Prolific growers in the right environment, vines can grow by as much as 20 feet in a single year.
The common passionfruit - actually classified as a berry - is a glossy dark green vine producing fruit with purple skin that is filled with deep orange pulp and soft black seeds. It is not named for any aphrodisiac qualities (though we do love them), but for more religious reasons. Spanish missionaries referred to it as the Flor de las cinco lagas - flower of the five wounds - believing it represented the passion of Christ. Primarily, this is due to the physical components of the flower parts, which symbolize Jesus’ last days and crucifixion.
As well as being delicious, passionfruit are rich in fibre, antioxidants and vitamins C and A. The juice, leaves and flowers of the vine all contain a compound called Harman. This is known to have a slight sedative effect, helping promote a good night’s sleep as well as reducing anxiety.
Grown extensively in South America, passionfruit was at one time widely cultivated in Hawaii, where it also thrived in the wild before it was wiped out by a destructive virus. Australians are fellow fans of the pulpy fruit, although cultivation there also suffered from a widespread virus in the 1940’s and never fully recovered.
Our fruit is grown on the Poverty Bay Flats, also known as the Gisborne Plains. This remarkable area is made up of alluvial soils said to constitute the most naturally fertile group of soils in New Zealand. Passionfruit can grow exceptionally well here, impressing aficionados with their flavour, abundance and size.
Passionfruit do not ripen after picking and should be hand-picked when the skin is purple with a slight wrinkle. They store well for at least a week at room temperature and for weeks in the fridge.
Cracked open and spooned straight into the mouth, they are also delicious in home baking, desserts (a classic cheesecake and pavlova topping) and cocktails (passionfruit Bellini anyone?).
The fruit can be frozen whole or you can mix two parts pulp with one part sugar (the sugar prevents the pulp from breaking down) and freeze in small containers (ice-trays are ideal).
Available between February and April.