Passionfruit may evoke a steamy romance in the sultry tropics, but that would be totally off base. In fact, the fruit may actually tranquilize rather than excite:
The pulp, leaves, and flowers of the passion fruit has been long used as a sedative by South American Indians and is noted for its calming effect. (AIHDP)
So why “passion”?
Thank the first Catholics coming into South America for that. Little is known about early use of the fruit, but when Spanish missionaries arrived, they called its flower the “flower of the five wounds” for what they perceived as its resemblance to the wounds of Jesus at his crucifixion. According to Food History, its symbolism extended even further:
The corona threads of the passion flower were seen as a symbol of the crown of thorns, the five stamens for wounds, the five petals and five sepals as the ten apostles (excluding Judas and Peter) and the three stigmas for the nails on the cross.
Umm, okay. But anyway, the name stuck, and the family to which this plant belongs was named Passifloraceae.
Although there are some 500 species of Passiflora, only P. edulis Sims is known solely as passionfruit. Within this species are two forms, purple (also known as purple, red, or black granadilla; shown above) and yellow (also known as yellow passionfruit, or, in Australia, golden passionfruit).
South Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina are the original home to the purple passionfruit vine, while it’s unclear whether the yellow also originated there or was due to a mutation from the purple form that had been taken to Australia via Hawaii in the early 1900s. Happily that mutation occurred because after a fungus destroyed much of the purple passionfruit grown in Australia, they discovered that the yellow form was resistant to fungus and the roots didn’t produce suckers. Still, Australians preferred the purple and eventually began growing hybrids of the two forms.
Today passionfruit is commercially grown in Australia, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Hawaii and Florida of the U.S., South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Israel, New Zealand, and India, among other countries. The fruit is used to make juice, jelly, and a syrup (for desserts, ice cream, and so on). When its numerous seeds are strained out, the remaining pulp is also used in sweets and beverages.
Passionfruit pieces also make an incredible fruit tea! In this example from TeaHaus, sunny pieces of passionfruit, mango, and apple are mixed with hibiscus, safflower, marigold, and cornflower petals.
Like all fruit teas, I very much prefer this one iced, and I like to brew it really strong so that it’s pretty much like drinking passionfruit nectar. Extremely refreshing and so full of tropical flavor—it stands as my all-time-favorite fruit tea.
And because it’s a blend of actual fruit, after the pieces reconstitute from brewing, I toss them into plain yogurt.
The brew is a deep gorgeous yellowish-orange (although this photo doesn’t accurately show that).
Passionfruit flavor can also be added to tea leaves, generally as a flavoring, or in the case of this blend from TeaHaus, as pieces of fruit.
Bright sunflower petals are also sprinkled in. Brewed, the tea looks like any typical black tea.
The flavor was slightly fruity but really nondescript, probably because I was drinking it alongside the incredible flavorful fruit tea.
The next day I brewed another cup, making it stronger, and drank it hot instead. The aroma had a strong passionfruit, or at least tropical fruity, note.
This time I did taste strong passionfruit, coming first, on the slightly bitter tea base, coming at the end. Both fruitiness and bite linger, not unpleasantly.
However, if I’m going for passionfruit with its heady tropical fruitiness, I really want the fruit tea. It’s the perfect tea for today, on ice. Lots and lots and lots of ice.
–”History of passion fruit,” Food History, 4/12/11.
–Morton, J. “Passionfruit,” in Fruits of Warm Climates, by J. Morton, Echo Point Books & Media, 2013. Accessed from Purdue University Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, 6/29/2020.
–”Passion fruit,” AIHDP (American Indian Health and Diet Project), accessed 6/29/20.