Why the Chinese Gooseberry?
When it was brought to New Zealand, people felt it tasted like a little like a gooseberry, a popular fruit at the time. So they started calling the fruit Chinese gooseberries. Despite this, other slang names popped up for kiwifruit, including the delightful hairy berry.
The Hayward Years
As we mentioned before in The History of Zespri™ SunGold™:
In 1904, Isabel Fraser, headmistress of the Wanganui Girls’ College, brought kiwifruit seeds back to New Zealand from her sister’s mission station in China’s Yangtze Valley. These seeds made their way to amateur horticulturist, Alexander Allison.
In fact, the first kiwifruit vines were recorded as bearing fruit on Alexander Allison’s property, south of the girls’ college in Wanganui, the very next year.
It was still being called the Chinese gooseberry at this point. While Alexander Allison is credited with growing the first kiwifruit plants, the variety we’re now used to was first developed by Hayward Wright in Avondale, New Zealand, around 1924. This lead to the fruit being referred to as “the Hayward,” which, even today, is used in some circles to refer to the green-variety kiwifruit.
After the Chinese Gooseberry
Even after “kiwifruit” took root in New Zealand and grew more popular, its name continued to morph. In Asia, it became known as Mihou Tao and Yang Tao, which means ‘sunny peach.’ Back in New Zealand, the name Chinese gooseberry was briefly changed to melonette. It finally landed on the name kiwifruit in 1959.
As Luck Would Have It . . .
But New Zealand’s place in the history of the kiwifruit that we know and love now wasn’t inevitable. Around the same time the first Chinese gooseberry seeds made their way to New Zealand, it was also en route to commercial nurseries in both the U.K. and U.S.
Unfortunately, the first batch of seeds brought to Britain and the U.S. produced only male plants. This meant the growers couldn’t produce edible fruit.
But . . . Why "Kiwifruit"?
The change to kiwifruit might seem like a no-brainer. But the name had a lot of competition. As kiwifruit began to be marketed globally, it seemed as though melonette might win out. At the time, however, U.S. tariffs on melon imports were extremely high. So everyone landed on kiwifruit — which makes sense.
New Zealanders are referred to as kiwis. The official bird of New Zealand is the kiwi. Hence, kiwifruit.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Sweet, delicious history!