The Feijoa belongs to the Myrtaceae family and is native to South America. The feijoa is often mistakenly identified as one of the guava family. The fruit was named after a Brazilian botanist called Don da Silva Feijoa.
It is now beginning to be commercially cultivated in New Zealand although it has been growing there since the beginning of the century.
It was first introduced into Europe, especially the Mediterranean area, in the 1890s and was planted in California about 1900, later appearing in New Zealand.
Very soon popular varieties began to develop - the Coolidge in California and the Triumph and Mammoth in New Zealand. Today the Triumph and Mammoth are the varieties most commonly found in New Zealand. They have the best flavour but are thin-skinned.
It is the Triumph variety which is most favored for commercial plantings. The fruit, which is green in color, is large and oval with an uneven but firm skin and has an excellent sharp flavour.
The Mammoth variety has a smooth skin and is more rounded than the Triumph. This variety matures early, but is softer and therefore more difficult to handle.
The Coolidge from the USA has a tendency to produce smaller, more cylindrical or pear-shaped fruit.
Other varieties include the Magnifica, which is the best for export as it has a thick skin and is therefore better for transporting, the Grace, the Choiciana and the Superba. There are in addition to these hundreds of unknown seedlings.
All varieties have a limited shelf life. When the large number of new plantings come into full production there will be too great a volume of feijoas for New Zealand to absorb and so it will be necessary to open up more overseas export markets for both fresh and processing fruit. Feijoas are currently processed in New Zealand in the Bay of Plenty.
In New Zealand, the feijoa is even more popular than kiwifruit. It has a strong aromatic flavour and can be eaten fresh simply by removing the skin or cutting it in half and scooping out the pulp. It is also often bottled as a preserve, frozen or made into jam. Feijoas are high in vitamin C and low in calories, similar to oranges.
Such is the confidence in the popularity of feijoas that commercial plantings increased by 50 per cent last year and similar increases are anticipated in years to come.
The feijoa is highly adaptable to almost any growing conditions and could easily be cultivated in many countries, but outside New Zealand it is prone to fruit fly and could, therefore, be unsuitable for commercial cultivation.
In New Zealand it is grown in most mild areas of the North Island, particularly around the Bay of Plenty, and in the warmer regions of the South Island. It cannot tolerate frost below minus nine degrees Celcius.
It can be cultivated on a wide range of soil types, even those not suitable for more sensitive fruit such as avocado and kiwifruit. However, the feijoa does fare better in good soil, especially if it is well-aerated.
The tree starts bearing, depending on whether it was grown from a cutting or a seedling, four or seven years after planting.
The wood of the feijoa tree is quite brittle and so it should be grown in sheltered places or protected by windbreaks. The tree generally grows to a height of about four metres and has beautiful flowers during blossoming.
Approximately 360 feijoa trees can be grown on one hectare of land, and for best results the trees should be pruned regularly. They can be protected from pests and disease by the same spraying methods used for kiwifruit.
The fruit remains small until the final six weeks before harvesting when it swells rapidly. When fully mature, it falls off the tree. Feijoas are normally harvested from March to May in the Southern Hemisphere and should be picked before they fall off the tree, but it is extremely difficult to determine when they are ripe enough.
One indication of maturity is a slight yellowing and dull surface on the flesh and when lightly pulled the fruit should come away easily from the tree. It is imperative that the fruit is ripe enough when picked because it will not ripen at all after harvesting.
During packing, the fruit must be very carefully handled to reduce bruising to a minimum. For local market supply the fruit is usually packed into boxes or cartons with a net weight of about 18 pounds, but jumble-packed 40 pound cartons have recently been gaining in popularity with both growers and retailers. Fruit for export is air-freighted to retain its freshness and on arrival should have a shelf life of about seven days.
Feijoas can be stored for a very limited period if kept at a temperature of 3 degrees Celcius (37 degrees Fahrenheit). Export fruit is packed in cardboard trays with moulded plastic inserts and is covered with a paper cushion for protection.
Turners and Growers Ltd, one of the main companies involved in the New Zealand fruit business, enclose recipe leaflets in every carton to educate buyers on the best uses for this unusual fruit.
They export a maximum of 20 tonnes, equivalent to 4000 trays, and their main markets are Japan, USA and Australia. Small quantities also go to Europe. Auckland Export Ltd also export feijoas and are currently conducting a trial promotion in West Germany to test market reaction and prospects.
Commercial cultivation of feijoas is still in its infancy; a lot of research is needed, particularly into more efficient harvesting methods. However, the feijoa is a delicious fruit and could soon gain worldwide popularity.
DATE: July 1983
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