Golden opportunity

For the past 12 years New Zealand growers have been trying to breed a kiwi fruit that tastes as mouthwatering as it looks and finally, reports Michael Bateman, they think they have done it. Now it is time for you to decide
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THAT KIWI fruit can be sold at all is a miracle. Rasping, green and raw, they set the teeth on edge, take the lining off the roof of the mouth and taste as alluring as unripe gooseberries. Indeed, the kiwi's original name was Chinese gooseberry, because it originated in the Yangtse valley.

THAT KIWI fruit can be sold at all is a miracle. Rasping, green and raw, they set the teeth on edge, take the lining off the roof of the mouth and taste as alluring as unripe gooseberries. Indeed, the kiwi's original name was Chinese gooseberry, because it originated in the Yangtse valley.

Wouldn't it sell more if it tasted nicer? Well, now we shall see. For a new, modified kiwi fruit is upon us: the Zespri Gold. It is honeyed and sweet and smells like a ripe melon. Or so we are told.

The kiwi has long been a fruit we love to hate, in spite of its initial popularity. When New Zealand growers introduced it to the UK 20 years ago, its arrival coincided fortuitously with the new generation of restaurant chefs promoting nouvelle cuisine, a style of cooking in which a principal feature was the plating of food.

The kiwi fruit was a godsend, contributing a cosmetic explosion of appetising emerald and adding a little mysterious tartness to contrast with smoother, creamier flavours. It was a novelty, and just like the avocado a decade before, it soon became fashionable.

But like all fashions, it was never going to last. Those who praised it most came to detest it most, and the restaurateur who uses it as a garnish today risks the ridicule of the food critics. The New Zealand fruit people tell us, in marketing jargon, that compared to NZ apples with over 90 per cent "penetration", the kiwi has only 7 per cent. In other words, 93 per cent of us can't stand them and don't buy them.

I must declare an interest. I'm one of the 7 per cent who eat them. Every day. It's not a lot more fun than taking a cold shower because I don't really like the kiwi's metallic taste. But I have one after my daily dose of cod liver oil, which I like to believe has stopped me from catching colds over the last 10 years. The kiwi fruit provides twice the daily requirement of vitamin C (double that of an orange) and the acid of the fruit strips away the horrible taste of the cod liver oil. Admittedly it replaces it with one which is jarringly astringent. However, a soothing cup of coffee soon restores gastronomic stability.

So, if only kiwi fruit didn't taste like kiwi fruit. This thought has long occupied the minds of New Zealand growers (incidentally, New Zealanders don't like them any more than we do), and about 12 years ago they managed to isolate a new strain which was larger, golden in colour, and had a smoother skin. For the last four years they have been completing trials. And now it's ready to go. The first big consignment will reach the shops next week, for the UK has been chosen as the first market. If successful, they will expand the orchards and take the new fruit to the rest of Europe.

It is being marketed as Zespri Gold, a totally forgettable name (think of the Kiwi rugby team and its zespri du corps). But there's a good reason for this. Because they had failed to patent the original kiwi fruit, growers in other temperate climes such as Chile, Italy, France and California clambered on the bandwagon, selling their own "kiwis". The Zespri Gold is thus protected.

I joined a tasting at The Sugar Club, where Peter Gordon, New Zealand's best-known cook, shows off his remarkable skills. The green kiwi, he says, he would use with cream to complement its tartness. The smooth, sweet golden kiwi, he thinks, marries well with ginger and honey.

So he made a ginger and golden kiwi salsa to serve on a salmon tartare, and a golden kiwi and coriander dressing with corn-fed chicken. And showing it in full pomp, as a dessert, atop honey-flavoured meringues. For amusement, he also created an ice-cold golden kiwi bellini, the fruit pureed and sieved into a cocktail with sparkling white wine and Cointreau.

It has to be said that wonderful though these concoctions were, the golden kiwi may not be to everyone's taste. It puts me in mind of marrow jam and over-ripe gooseberries, though I do like it. Yet I wonder whether the world needs a new fruit. The tropical zones of the world are dense with juicy, perfumed mangoes and passion fruit, papaya and rambutan, lychees and custard apples. If only they could get them to Europe in sound condition, not picked weeks before they ripen.

And there's the nub of the issue. The kiwi is the ideal supermarket fruit; it matures off the tree (or rather, vine), is encased in a tough skin which provides perfect packaging, and has an extensive shelf life. Whether it it works or not, you can judge for yourselves next week.

Golden kiwi and honey meringues

Serves 4. (Makes about 12 meringues, which will keep for a week in an airtight container.)

12fl oz/350ml egg whites1 teaspoon lemon juicepinch of fine salt1lb 4oz/550gdemerara sugar14 pint/150ml double cream2 dessertspoons manuka honey6 peeled golden kiwi2 teaspoons caster sugar

Pre-heat oven to 120C/235F/Gas 12. Whisk the first four ingredients together in a mixer for 10 minutes on full. Line two to three baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture on to the trays. Using the back of a spoon, make a well in the centre of each meringue. Bake for one and a half hours. Turn the oven off and leave them to cool in the oven. When ready to serve, whip the cream and honey until thick enough to form peaks. Slice four of the golden kiwis into six discs. Mash the remaining two together with the caster sugar to make a coulis. To serve, dollop some of the honey-cream on a meringue, lay six slices of the fruit on top, then pour some of the coulis around it.

Bellinis

Serves 4

2 peeled golden kiwi1 teaspoon caster sugar10ml Cointreau1 bottle Prosecco or sparkling wine, chilled

Blend first three ingredients slowly to avoid grinding the seeds. Sieve. Divide between four champagne flutes and top with sparkling wine.

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