How New Zealand hijacked the Kiwi Fruit

First of all, did you know that the fuzzy brown fruit with green flesh and black seeds are technically known as ‘kiwifruit’ and not just ‘kiwi’? ‘Kiwi’ refers to the native bird of New Zealand, or if used in slang, it means a New Zealander. So now that we have that out of the way, have you heard of the Chinese Gooseberry?

If you haven’t, the Chinese Gooseberry originates from China. It is a fuzzy brown fruit with green flesh and black seeds. Yes – the Chinese Gooseberrey IS a kiwifruit. And the kiwifruit – despite common misconception – did not originate from New Zealand.

How do you explain this?

Basically, the fuzzy fruit was originally discovered in China’s Chang Kiang Valley, and was considered a delicacy by the Khans (yes, the Mongols).

By 1904, it began to find its way into worldwide fame via a Kiwi school principal by the name of Mary Fraser who was visiting mission schools in China. She brought the seeds back to New Zealand and gave it to a nurseryman by the name of Alexander Allison, who managed to cultivate the fruit by 1910.

Because it had a gooseberry flavour, they began calling it the ‘Chinese Gooseberry’ although it wasn’t related to gooseberries at all.

New Zealand began exporting the fruit to the US in the 1950s, during the height of the Cold War – and the term ‘Chinese Gooseberry’ did not sit well with the Americans. So they needed to rebrand the fruit – the first suggestion was ‘melonettes’, which was also unpopular due to the fact that melons and berries incurred high import tariffs.

Then in June 1959, the name ‘kiwifruit’ – dedicated to New Zealand’s national bird – became widely accepted. Demand for the fruit took off and by the 1970s the name ‘Chinese Gooseberry’ was relegated to the pages of history. And the ‘kiwifruit’ was perceived to be an original product of New Zealand – a fruity equivalent of a copyright infringement of sorts.

Although the kiwifruit may be New Zealand’s defining agricultural product, it is now widely cultivated in many countries, including the US, Italy and – ironically – China, which became the world’s top kiwifruit producer by 2014. However, the last laugh may belong to the kiwis – although its original 16th century Chinese name was mihoutao (“macaque fruit”), today the kiwifruit in Chinese is a partial transliteration of its English moniker: qíyì guǒ (奇异果).

The next time you munch on some kiwifruit, remember that you could be eating a ‘melonette’ or a ‘macaque fruit’.


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