Know More: The Origins of Fruits

Knowledge

Fruits are a healthy source of vitamins, minerals and fibres. But did you know that fruits also have a history? Priyanka Sarang tells you more about the origins of your favourite fruits

 

TROPICAL GUAVA  
Scientific Name:
Psidium guajava

The guava belongs to Mexico and Peru. Researchers have found remains of the fruit during an excavation of a 2,800-year-old human settlement in Peru. However they could not say whether the fruit was domesticated or harvested then.

The guava is believed to have been taken by Spanish and Portuguese colonisers to Europe and later to their respective colonies in Africa and South East Asia.

Today, there are 150 known species of the Psidium genus, but the tropical guava is best known. The fruit comes in different sizes, skin textures, sweetness as well as flesh colours. The tropical guava is a great source of vitamin C as well as potassium and dietary fibre.

 

MANGO
Scientific name: Mangifera indica

The mango is native to southern Asia, especially Burma and India. The fruit spread early on to Malaya, eastern Asia and eastern Africa. Mangoes were introduced to California in 1880. It is thought that mangoes were taken by Portuguese travellers to East Africa, West Africa and later to other colonies in the 16th Century. Today, two different types of mango exist - one from India and the other from the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Close to 40 species of mango are bred today and the fruit tastes the best if it is allowed to mature on the tree.

 

WATERMELON
Scientific name: Citrullus ianatus

The watermelon originated in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. There are two main varieties of watermelon - one that is bitter and the other from which all other varieties of cultivated watermelons originate. Watermelon seeds are used to make bread by Kalahari tribesmen. The flesh is dried and then eaten by them as a vegetable. Though wild watermelon species are tasteless, they are fairly large, crunchy and juicy. Watermelons are a rich source of vitamin C.

 

MELON
Scientific name: Cucumis melon

There are various varieties of melons available in Africa. The wild melon belongs to sub-Saharan, eastern tropical Africa. Melons are usually smooth skinned like the honeydew melon, cantaloupe and muskmelon. Muskmelon is believed to be native to north-western India from where it spread to China and Europe via the Persian Empire. During the 15th Century, melons captured everyone's attention when a person in France invented 50 different ways of eating melons. Later, the melon was taken to England and America.

 

ORANGE
Scientific name:
Citrus sinensis

Oranges originated in Southeast Asia. In a number of languages, oranges are also known as Chinese apples. In India, one can buy only three varieties from the orange family - namely tangerines, grapefruits and oranges - but a fourth variety of orange called the blood orange is very popular. Blood oranges are a natural variety of Citrus sinensis derived from abnormal pigmentation of the fruit, which gives the fruits pulp its blood red colour. Blood oranges were first discovered and cultivated in the 15th Century in Sicily, Italy. The top three orange-producing countries in the world are Brazil, the United States of America and Mexico. Most parts of the orange are used including the peel, which can be made into a slug repellent.

 

KIWIFRUIT  
Scientific name:
Actinidia deliciosa

Kiwifruit belongs to East Asia. The A deliciosa species is native to Southern China. It is also the national fruit of China. Italy is now the leading producer of kiwifruit, followed by New Zealand, Chile, France, Greece, Japan and the United States. Kiwifruit is also known as Chinese gooseberry in certain parts of the world.

Kiwifruit comes in various flavours from bland or sweet to peppery. Countries like France, Canada, USA and New Zealand have developed new hybrids of numerous species of kiwifruit that include a kiwi which is the size of a grape, red kiwifruit and kiwifruit with yellow flesh. Today, more than 40 different varieties of kiwifruit are available in the international market.

 

LITCHI
Scientific name:
Litchi chinensis

The litchi belongs to Southern China and perhaps Vietnam. China has been cultivating the fruit for more than 1,000 years. In 1492, 40 different litchi varieties were listed. This number has now grown to about 72 different varieties. Unlike many other fruits, litchis can be stored, pickled and dried. Litchis are said to be an excellent cure for persistent coughs. In China, the fruit is used for the treatment of many different illnesses.

 

LEMON
Scientific name: Citrus limon

The origin of the lemon has always been a mystery, though most researchers assume that lemons first grew in India, northern Burma and China. Lemons entered southern Italy in the 1st Century during the time of Ancient Rome. The first real cultivation of lemons in Europe began only in the middle of the 15th Century. In 1493, lemons were introduced to America when Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to Hispaniola. The lemons that we consume are grown from ancestral plants possibly from South East Asia. Lemons are high in vitamin C and help in the healing process. They also help to fight existing cancers.

 

APPLE
Scientific name: Malus pumila

Archaeologists have stumbled upon the carbonised remains of an apple from the Iron Age at a pre-historic lake in Switzerland. In fact, the apple tree is believed to be the oldest cultivated tree in the world, though its exact origin is not known. Some historians believe that apple trees were first planted and cultivated by the Romans and that the fruit's origin can be traced to South Western Asia. On the other hand, some believe that apples originated in Kazakhstan in South Central Asia.

The first apple tree planted in India is said to have been brought into Himachal Pradesh by Samuel Evan Stokes in 1916. Today, there are as many as 30 to 35 different species of apple grown across the world.

 

STRAWBERRY
Scientific name:
Fragaria ananassa

Did you know that the strawberry is not a fruit? What we refer to as the strawberry fruit is actually an enlarged receptacle of the flower of the plant. The history of strawberries dates back to 2,200 years ago, to 234BC when wild strawberry plants were found in Italy. Some Europeans found wild strawberries on the shores of Virginia, USA in 1588. In the 16th Century, strawberry seeds of species that grew in North America were taken to Europe and this initiated the process of modern strawberry production. Strawberries have different colours and flavours. Today, there are approximately 40 different species of strawberry, most of which are edible.

 

BANANAS
Scientific name: Musa sapientum

Bananas or plantains are native to tropical Southeast Asia and are likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea. Today, they are cultivated throughout the tropical belt in at least 107 countries.

The banana plant has long been a source of fibre for high quality textiles. In Japan, banana cultivation for clothing and household use dates back to at least the 13th Century. Banana fibre is used in the production of banana paper too. Banana sap is extremely sticky and can be used as a practical adhesive. Interestingly, all parts of the banana plant are consumed as food. The flower is used in Southeast Asia and India, the trunk is used almost all across India and the leaves, which are flexible and waterproof, are used as food containers or plates in South Asia.

Bananas contain considerable amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin C and potassium and are used as an immediate source of energy by athletes.