The passion fruit, a tropical berry, originates from Passiflora edulis, a climbing vine native to South America. Inside of this round and thick bark of purple or yellow fruit hides a gelatinous, tangy, sweet and very fragrant pulp, dotted with small black seeds. This fruit is also called “maracuja” for the Brazil and and “maracudja” in Creole. The passion fruit is a small fruit, sweet and tangy, suitable for sweet and savory preparations.
The story of passion fruit
The Passiflora type is native to South America, more precisely in the Amazon basin, where many species are still growing in the wild. This is a vine similar to a climbing plant. At the end of the 16th century, the Spanish discovered the culinary and medicinal uses of the Indians from Mexico and South America. They brought the seeds of the plant to Europe, where it was widely grown and became popular as a medicinal plant. In North America people also discovered its calming properties. Until the middle of the 20th century, the fruit played a significant role in medicine, before being replaced by the synthetic medicines.
There are more than 475 species of passionflowers listed; but only some are grown on a large scale for their fruit. Several others still provide excellent fruits that are consumed locally. The most cultivated species is P. edulis, is grown in all tropical countries. It exists in 2 varieties. The first variety P. edulis var. edulis grows in the hot lowlands and gives purple berries. The second variety P. edulis var. flavicarpa prefers cooler climates of high altitudes and gives the yellow fruits a greater size. This botanical generates great interests among gardeners. Most of its flowers are spectacular and the climbing bearing plant covers its abundant foliage cover gazebos in gardens.
The main producers of passion fruit are Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and Peru. The majority of the fresh fruit are consumed on site. Concentrated juice constitutes the largest portions of exports.
The symbolism of the passion fruit
The name of this plant directly refers to the Passion of Christ. The religious who have seen the fruit for the first time in South America saw in the flower, the symbol of the last hours of the life of Jesus. The crown with his bristly spikes would represent the crown of thorns. 3 styles would be the nails used for the crucifixion. 3 stamens would be the wound. The 5 sepals and 5 petals represent the apostles, excluding Judas, who had betrayed the Christ and Peter who had denied him. Finally, the tendrils that allow the vines to climb remember the whips.
Health profile of the passion fruit
The passion fruit, also called granadilla, is a small tropical berry as a size of an egg. Its flesh is fragrant and contains many small black seeds which are a very good source of dietary fiber.
The benefits of passion fruit
Several epidemiological studies have shown that a high consumption of fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and various chronic diseases. The presence of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables could play an important role in this protection.
There are few clinical researches having studied the effects of the specific consumption of the passion fruit. However, the use of some supplements extracted from the skin or the juice of the fruit gave interesting results. These are the most promising applications:
Asthma. A small study with 43 people showed that regular consumption of a supplement composed of peel extract of passion fruit decreased asthma symptoms (reduction in the prevalence of the sputum, cough and shortness of breath). Studies need to be performed on a larger number of subjects to confirm the effectiveness of this treatment.
High blood pressure. Research has shown that a supplement from passion fruit peel extract could improve systolic and diastolic blood pressure, without any adverse effect. The administered supplement consisted of a mixture of phenolic acids, flavonoids and anthocyanins, active compounds from the passion fruit.
Degenerative joint disease. Another type of supplement, extracted from the peel of the passion fruit, improve physical function and reduce pain and stiffness among patients with knee osteoarthritis. Reported beneficial effects are due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory of the peel of the passion fruit properties. More studies will be needed before making recommendations about effectiveness and safety of such supplement.
Cancer. Researchers have observed in vitro that a mixture of antioxidants from passion fruit juice could reduce the growth of cancer cells and increased the activity of an enzyme for the destruction of these cells.
What is the fruit of the passion?
The passion fruit contains several types of antioxidants; compounds that help neutralize free radicals in the body and thus prevent the emergence of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and various chronic diseases.
The main antioxidants from the passion fruit are anthocyanins, and more specifically of the cyanidin. These compounds, which are pigments, give color to foods. They would have beneficial properties for cancer prevention (for example, the reduction of tumor formation and reduction in cancer cells growth). These properties have however not been studied directly in humans.
The skin of the passion fruit and the layer of flesh located just below contain a high amount of lycopene, an antioxidant from the carotenoids family. You just need to scrape the flesh with a spoon to the skin to get a good amount of lycopene. Unlike other carotenoids, lycopene doesn’t have the ability to turn into vitamin A in the body. However, its antioxidant action would have beneficial effects on the health, including the impact of cardiovascular diseases and prostate cancer. Lycopene is better absorbed in the body when consumed with a source of fat, such as nuts or cheeses. Until now, lycopene coming specifically from passion fruit has been relatively little studied. Tomatoes and tomato-based products are the main sources of lycopene in food.
The peel and the seeds of the passion fruit has the same amount of insoluble fiber. These would help prevent constipation by increasing the volume of the stool. In general, a diet rich in fiber would be associated with a lower risk of colon cancer and help fill the appetite faster providing a feeling of satiety.
Research showed that the addition of seeds from passion fruits to a rich cholesterol diet could improve several blood parameters (cholesterol, triglycerides) and some intestinal functions among animals. However, further studies are needed to see if the passion fruit seeds have the same effects among humans.
The passion fruit and latex allergy. Latex allergy can be associated with allergies to certain foods, like the passion fruit. Reactions vary, from urticaria to anaphylactic reactions. Given the potential severity of the reactions, special attention must be paid at the time of the consumption of these foods among people allergic to latex or pollen. It is recommended to consult an allergist to determine the cause of the reactions to certain foods and the precautions to be taken. Foods potentially associated with allergy to latex, include also chestnut, kiwi, papaya, avocado, banana, and apricot.
Selection and conservation
The fruit should be fragrant and heavy in hand. Its skin should be pleated and give slightly under pressure. The hard, smooth, and shiny skin fruit gives the impression of a great freshness, but it is actually immature, little tasty and rather acid. Depending on the variety, the fruit will be purple or yellow.
The juice is usually mixed with other fruits. Check the label to make sure it’s a 100% natural juice, not a beverage comprising sugar and various artificial ingredients.
Refrigerator. If the skin of the fruit is not very wrinkled, let it ripen at room temperature, then put it in the refrigerator where it can be kept for 1 week.
Freezer. Place the flesh in a freezer bag or freeze the whole fruit. You can also make a coulis or a juice and pour into a tray of ice.
As it is a climbing plant, you should provide it a solid support (wooden poles, pole or arbor). The stems will probably die late in the fall, but it is likely that the roots survive and give rise to new shoots the following summer.
You should cultivate the P. edulis species in a pot (of about 30 cm in diameter). It also requires warmer temperatures. The pot should be put outside during summer and stay inside during fall before the first frost. You can take the seeds from a fruit and lose them after get rid them of their gelatinous envelope. Cover a very thin layer of soil, as the seed needs light to germinate. Germination should take place after 3 or 4 weeks.
Many species of passionflower can be grown indoors for their flowers which are all beautiful.
Trim the plant in the spring to facilitate its moving from inside to outside, but also to allow the flowering and fruiting, which occur on buds of the year.
Regularly fertilize the plant with seaweed and fish extract.
You will get the larger fruits if you pollinate the plant by transferring pollen from one flower to another using an artist brush.
It is best to pick only the very ripe fruit, when they are about to fall. You can put a net to collect and to avoid that they get damaged by falling.
Ecology and environment
Passion flower is using various strategies to defend itself against predatory insects. One of them is to secrete a cyanogenetic glycosides, which, when the larvae of insects eats the plant leaves, transform it into hydrocyanic acid, a highly toxic compound. But the heliconius butterfly, which unique food source is the passion flower, managed to work around the problem. It has developed, over thousands of years of evolution, a fairly complex strategy, allowing larvae metabolize the cyanogenetic glycosides to make them harmhess. So, they can nibble the leaves of a plant that would be a poison for any other insect.
Passion flower has developed another strategy to specifically combat the heliconius larvae. Thanks to small glands called “nectaries” and located on its stems and leaves, it secretes a nectar which revel ants. These are also the main predator of the héliconius!
Researchers at Stanford University found that the use of chemical insecticides against heliconius larvae was not only ineffective, but seemed paradoxically contributing to their proliferation. A further study of the habits of these insects has allowed observing that their long attendance of poisons plant allowed them to quickly develop resistance to chemical poisons. Ants, however, succumb much more easily to these insecticides. In other words, the chemical insecticides were exactly contrary to the expected effect: it killed the predatory ants without eliminating the heliconius larvae.