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Enjoying Native Hawaiian Fruits

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   November 8th, 2010 · No Disqus Comments · Maui Food

This week we’re focusing on one of the best things about Hawaii- the fruit!  Here is a quick pop quiz for you: Which of the following are native fruits to Hawaii?

Pineapple
Mango
Guava
Papaya

The answer: None.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  There is a pineapple look-a-like called Hala or “Tourist Pineapple” that is native to Hawaii, but for the most part, these fruits were introduced by settlers.

The pineapple, which is actually not one fruit, but many small berries pressed together, is native to Brazil and Paraguay.  The Spanish introduced it to Hawaii in the early 19th century and given the hospitable climate, the plant proliferated throughout the islands.  Cultivation of the fruit is now largely associated with the Dole and Maui Land and Pineapple plantations on Oahu and Maui.

Although it is not a native plant, mango trees are commonplace in Hawaiian front yards.  The fruit was introduced to local culture relatively recently and quickly became absorbed, influencing cooking, gardening and celebrations.  In its native India, the mango tree is even more significant.  For Hindus, the ripe fruit is a symbol of attainment and its flower is used in the worship of Saraswati.  Indians also decorate the doors and archways of their homes with its leaves during weddings and other celebrations.

Guava is the most common fruit in Hawaii as its tree will grow almost anywhere on the islands and has become invasive in native ecosystems.  Native to Mexico and Central America, it is highly nutritious and an excellent course of dietary fiber, omega 3 and 6 acids, and vitamins A and C.  In fact, one guava has as much vitamin C as four oranges.

The papaya is unique to this list because all parts of the fruit can be eaten.  The flesh is used in various Hawaiian, Filipino and Thai delicacies, or can be served raw with a slice of lime, and the seeds can be used much like black peppercorns.  The fruit is not only delicious; different cultures report it to have medicinal properties as well.  Women in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan used green papaya for natural contraception or abortion, and papain, an enzyme which papaya has in great concentrations, is used for digestive health and in topical ointments for rashes, burns, and cuts.  The fruit is native to Mexico and Central and South Americas.

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