While the origin of the passion fruit plant is unknown, it is generally believed to be native to Brazil where 16th Century Spanish Catholics named it "Flor de las cinco llagas" or "flower of the five wounds" after its distinctive purple flower and its shape. In Ecuador, it was called “la fruit de las Pasión.”
Today, passion fruit is grown nearly everywhere in the tropical belt but known by a variety of different names. Its most common name is “Maracuya” in South America, “Parcha” or “Parchita” in Venezuela and Puerto Rico, “Lilikoi” in Hawaii, and “Chinola” in the Dominican Republic.
Passion fruit was introduced into Hawaii in 1880, and it quickly became popular in home gardens. It naturalized in Hawaii's almost perfect climate and, by 1930, could be found wild on all the islands of the Hawaiian chain. In 1951, the University of Hawaii chose passion fruit as the most promising crop for agricultural development. The university undertook a program to create an industry for production of quick-frozen passion fruit juice concentrate. By 1958, the plantings expanded to cover 490 hectares, and the industry was rather well-established.
Long-term success proved more challenging. Viruses damaging the vines, high labor costs, and the rapidly increasing value of land combined to wipe out this young industry. Today, there are no more commercial passion fruit plantations left in Hawaii, but the fruit's unique flavor remains deeply rooted in the taste preferences of the Hawaiian people. Large quantities of passion fruit juice and concentrate are shipped to Hawaii every year.
Australia is another area of high passion fruit consumption due to history and familiarity. Passion fruit flourished there before 1900 in what had once been banana fields. It attained great importance up until 1943 when the vines were devastated by a widespread virus.
Most of the world’s passion fruit is currently grown in South America. Starting in the mid 1950's, passion fruit cultivation became widespread in Colombia and Venezuela. Later it spread to Ecuador. Today, South America, particularly Ecuador, is the main exporter of passion fruit concentrate to the Western World.
When compared to huge crops like banana, the production of passion fruit is miniscule. However, the popularity of passion fruit continues to grow. In Brazil, fresh passion fruit is immensely popular. The demand is so high that although much of the fruit is grown domestically, additional supplies have been imported from Ecuador in recent years. In Brazil, the fruit is used in fresh beverages made both at home and in "stalls" or juice stands popular throughout the country.
Today, passion fruit is known for its unique, intense, aromatic flavor, lending itself well as a natural ingredient for juice blends. This natural concentrate blends well with other juice flavors, and is used as an application in many beverages and foods worldwide.