History

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. Today, about 400 years later, passion fruit is grown nearly everywhere in the tropical belt but known by a variety of different names. Its common name is Maracuya in Ecuador and Brazil, Parcha in Venezuela, Lilikoi in Hawaii, and Chinola or Parchita in Puerto Rico.

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 and undertook a program to create an industry for production of quick-frozen passion fruit juice concentrate. By 1958 the plantings had expanded to cover 490 hectares and the industry was rather well established.

Long-term success was not to be however. 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. It is thought, as a matter of fact, that Hawaii may well have the highest per capita consumption of passion fruit juice in the world.

Australia is another area of high passion fruit consumption, again, due to history and familiarity. Passion fruit flourished there before 1900 in what had been banana fields. It attained great importance until 1943 when the vines were devastated by a widespread virus. Although some plantations have been rebuilt, they can not produce enough passion fruit to satisfy the demand and imports make up the balance.

It is in South America that most of the world's passion fruit is currently grown. Starting in the mid 1950's, passion fruit cultivation became widespread in Colombia and Venezuela. Later it spread to Ecuador. Today, South America, and particularly Ecuador, is the main exporter of passion fruit concentrate to the Western World.

When compared to huge crops like banana (estimated 45 million MT per year), the production of passion fruit is miniscule...only an estimated 640,000 MT. The market for fresh fruit is almost nonexistent in the U.S. although this may change as consumers reach out for new, different, and more exotic fruit and produce. In Brazil however, fresh passion fruit is immensely popular. The demand is so strong that although they grow much of their own fruit, they have had to import additional supplies, primarily 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.

Because of its unique, intense, aromatic flavor characteristics, passion fruit is a "natural" ingredient for juice blends. It has also been described as a natural concentrate and it blends so well with other juice flavors. In Germany, one of the largest juice consuming countries in the world, passion fruit concentrate and banana puree constitute the base of almost every "multivitamin" juice produced. These "multivitamin" juices are second only to apple juice in popularity among Germans.

 

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