Kiwi fruits have a very recent and interesting history, that deeply reflects their perceived usefulness, appreciation and popularity.
Their scientific name is Actinidia Deliciosa, and they first made their appearance in Southern China, where they were known as Yang Tao (sunny peach) or Mihou Tao (macaque peach): in fact, in China they are still considered the national fruit! As of today, many other species of Actinidia can be found in Japan and Siberia.
Kiwifruits were introduced to the western world at the beginning of the 20th century – when the missionary Isabel Frasier (the principal of of Wanganui Girls’ College) introduced them to New Zealand after visiting missions in China.
The very first seed was planted in 1906 by Alexander Allison (a Wanganui nurseryman), and the first fruits were gathered in 1910.
In 1920, many kiwifruits were sold by a number of nurseryman, including Duncan and Davies, Bruno Just, Hortons of Hastings, Frank Mason and Hayward Wright. The first plantings were in Auckland, Wanganui, Fielding and Tauranga.
In 1952, the first load of kiwifruits was exported by Jim MacLoughlin and Grahame Bayliss: it consisted of 13 tonnes, exported to England.
In 1958, Turners and Growers (a fruit packaging firm in Auckland), briefly named the fruit “melonette”, but changed its name to the Maori word “kiwi” after learning about steep tariffs on melons. the first 100 cases of kiwifruit were successfully exported to California.
In 1970, the first successful crop of Californian kiwifruit was harvested!
In 1991, a new variety of golden, yellow kiwifruit was developed. It was originally named “Hort16A” and it was bred in an orchard owned by HortResearch in Te Puke.
Since then, new species for commercial purposed were grown, and a mention must be made to the Hayward species, cultivated first around 1924 by Hayward Wright in Avondale (New Zealand). This new species led to the beginning of commercial production around 1940.
By 1960, they were widely known as “Chinese Gooseberries”, because of their visual resemblance to gooseberries. They don’t belong to the same genus as gooseberries, though!
As of 2007, the leading producers of kiwifruit are, in order: Italy, New Zealand, Chile, France, Greece, Japan and the USA. Kiwi fruits are also cultivated in China, albeit in smaller amounts, in the regions of the mountainous Yangtze River and Sichuan