Monday, April 25, 2011

Passion Fruit

Passion fruit, known as lilikoi in Hawaii, comes in two types. The prettier, larger type, is bright yellow. In the late 1970's, when I lived in Hawaii with my family, I recall my mother using yellow lilikoi to make a wonderful tart pie, with a consistency similar to key lime pie. However, I also recall biting into some yellow lilikoi and not liking the flavor at all. It was very tart and not very sweet. That has colored my impression of passion fruit for the last 30+ years. The yellow type can get as large as a grapefruit, although I don't ever recall seeing any that big. I recently saw and bought some of the other type, the purple type, at Albertson's. I was surprised to find that it was purple, as I've always thought of it as yellow. The purple type is about the size of a small lemon and is less acidic than the yellow type and has a richer aroma and flavor. 
The purple type is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die. 1001 describes the taste as having "notes of mandarin, orange, and pineapple." I don't know who comes up with that stuff, but of course, there are pigs that can sniff truffles underground, so I'm sure there are people with taste buds that can find "hints" or "notes" of various things. Passion fruit does have a very distinctive smell and that is part of its appeal. I don't know what it is like, other than passion fruit. I suppose it is the defining smell of that smell. The taste is also distinctive. It is tart, the level of tartness depending on how ripe it is. The inside consists of a golden orange pulp and arils enclosing edible black seeds. 
To enhance the taste, due to raised sugar levels, you are supposed to allow the fruit to wrinkle for a few days. 
I had three and ate them at various stages. The first one I had, which had no dimpling on the outside, was by far the most juicy inside, 
but it was also the most tart. 
The last one, which had dimpling for several days, was a little less tart, a little sweeter, but had much, much less juice. 
By that stage, most of the juice just seemed congregated around the arils. 
The arils do have some similarity to the arils in a pomegranate. However, the seed texture is completely different. 
When I'm eating the seeds of a pomegranate, they feel more pithy, more like tiny pieces of water-logged wood. The passion fruit arils are more like glass or sand, or like eating crunchy hard candy. As you chew, you feel like you are fracturing these little seeds into many smaller pieces and it is a little unpleasant, it takes some getting used to. It isn't a taste issue, it is a texture issue. The last Christian missionaries in South America called the fruit "passion"  because they thought the flower of the plant illustrated the crucifixion or "passion of Christ" (three stigmas reflecting three nails in Jesus' hands and feet, five anthers reflecting five wounds, ten petals and sepals reflecting ten apostles - excluding Judas and Peter, vine tendrils like whips and threads a symbol of the crown of thorns). I've wondered if that may be part of the reason passion fruit is showing up in the stores during this week of Easter. I was not looking at the passion fruit flower, just the fruit itself, but the shell of the fruit, when all the pulp has been extracted has a distinctive look: three reddish-white triangular pieces in a white bowl. 
It sort of reminds me of the symbol for the Dharma Initiative, or, dare I say it, a uterus and ovaries. That maybe is a different kind of passion, or perhaps on a more religious level, could relate to the virgin birth. I don't think I'll be buying many passion fruits just to spoon the pulp out and eat it with a spoon. I would love to have some passion fruit pie, or a passion fruit smoothie, but for me it is an ingredient fruit, not a destination fruit.

After first putting up this post, I remembered having some passion fruit when we went to Peru in 2009. We stayed in the Amazon basin jungle outside of Puerto Maldonado and several times had a fruit plate that included the yellow type of passion fruit, known as maracuya in Peru. See the top portion of the picture below.

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