Fuzzy, tangy, and zesty These classic kiwifruit have the most fiber and fewest calories.
In the fruit and vegetable sections of grocery stores around the world, a familiar scene unfolds: pallets, shelves, and bins brim with pyramid-like towers of shiny apples, nutritious kiwifruit, glistening cherries, fat-bottomed butternut squash, leathery avocados, gold-skinned potatoes, and more. A quick glance at their labels reveal that many share a common trait: They hail from New Zealand. And behind each piece of produce is a unique backstory of innovation and scientific mettle.
New Zealand became an agricultural powerhouse back in the 1950s, aided by the country’s temperate climate, fertile soil, clean air, and abundance of pristine water sources. The nation gets as much sun as the best growing zones in Spain and boasts a similar climate to that of the Bordeaux region of France. Still, it wasn’t until the new millennium that farmers began to truly innovate, embracing new varietals of fruits and vegetables as well as new technologies and their applications in the field. The results of that shift were dramatic: Today, New Zealand’s horticultural sector rakes in a whopping $3.25 billion USD per year from the export of more than 100 different varieties of fruit, which find their way to grocery stores in more than 120 international markets.
Such numbers would be impressive from any country, but they’re especially astounding considering that New Zealand is still a relatively young nation. Over just the past few decades, the country has created innovative industries around kiwifruit, apple, and avocado from the ground up. Curious how some of New Zealand’s most famous fruits got so sweet? Read on for their delicious backstories.
Fuzzy, tangy, and zesty These classic kiwifruit have the most fiber and fewest calories.
Smooth and tropical, with a smaller core and fewer seeds SunGoldTM kiwifruit are packed with vitamin C—they have three times as much as an orange!
Petite, sweet, and berry-like These brand-new kiwifruit get their color and taste from naturally occurring antioxidant anthocyanin.
No fruit is as emblematic of New Zealand as the kiwifruit. Originally native to central and eastern China, kiwifruit vines first took root in New Zealand back in the early 1900s. During World War II, American servicemen stationed in New Zealand took a major liking to the fruit’s juicy, emerald-colored flesh and amazing flavor. So much so, in fact, that after the war, growers ramped up kiwifruit production to export the sweet fruit worldwide. The moniker “kiwifruit” was coined by growers in the early 1960s in order to give the sweet-tart treat even more appeal abroad—and, perhaps, to make sure even faraway shoppers knew the fruit’s provenance.
Today, New Zealand remains one of the world’s most prolific growers of kiwifruit. In the 2020 season alone, New Zealand supplied over 600,000 metric tons of the fruit to global markets. The New Zealand industry’s success is, in large part, tied to investment in new varieties of fruit and growing techniques. Together with the government-owned research institute Plant & Food Research, kiwifruit marketer Zespri invests around $12.9 million USD annually in the world’s largest kiwifruit breeding program. This innovation has delivered a golden-fleshed variety, ZespriTM SunGold Kiwifruit, which boasts a sweeter, more tropical taste. By the early 2000s, SunGold Kiwifruit were sold all over the world.
Don’t think that the kiwifruit is resting on its laurels, though: In 2015, the New Zealand government joined in on its development, investing $7 million USD into the world’s largest kiwifruit breeding program, which seeks to develop even more varieties that are optimized for flavor, size, vine yield, and hardiness.
What’s next on the kiwifruit horizon? Keep an eye out for ZespriTM Red, the red-fleshed kiwifruit with a tempting berry flavor. The fruit draws its vibrant red color from anthocyanin, a naturally-occurring antioxidant and pigment linked to cardiovascular and cognitive health.
Of course, the most exciting part of New Zealand’s kiwifruit bounty is what you can do with it in your kitchen. The fruit are easy to eat as a snack—just cut them in half and scoop out the delicious & nutritious contents, or you could blitz kiwifruit into a chia seed-enriched smoothie bowl topped with granola, nuts, and toasted coconut, or go the savory route by pairing kiwifruit chunks with goat cheese atop a crunchy slice of bruschetta. Still hungry? There are plenty more delicious dishes to whip up.
Beautifully pink, with a sweet tropical flavor
Large, red, crisp & juicy
Red, crispy texture with a beautifully balanced sweetness
Juicy and crunchy, with a distinctive tangy-sweet flavor
Golden-green, sweet, and succulent
Compact and snackable, with a sweet flavor
Bright yellow, with crisp white flesh and an effervescent, tangy flavor
Apples are big business in New Zealand. The industry is worth more than $600 million USD, a staggering achievement given the nation’s small geographical footprint. To compensate for the relatively small amount of farmable acreage, horticulturalists instead rely on the power of innovation, laboring to create the next “it” apple—a distinction they’ve achieved several times over.
In 1985, green-thumbed experts first created the tangy-sweet JazzTM apple. A hybrid of Royal Gala and Braeburn apples, JazzTM apples became a global sensation when they launched commercially in 2004. They now grow in fields across France, England, Chile, Australia, South Africa, and the U.S., resulting in the sale of more than 120,000 tons of JazzTM apples every year.
Another ‘80s invention, the refreshingly crisp, beautifully balanced EnvyTM apple, hit shelves in 2008. Sweet and extremely juicy with intensely red skin and golden undertones, the Envy™ apple is a perfect example of how innovation can lead to better apples. Another cross between Royal Gala and Braeburn apples, the Envy™ manages to capture the sweet crispness of the Royal Gala and the Braeburn’s juicy flesh. But they’re overall sweeter and boast a more radiant color than either parent. A robust fruit that retains its flavor even as it travels up the supply chain, Envies are today grown in Washington State, Chile, Europe, South Korea, and—of course—New Zealand, and sold in 45 countries. There is an incredible international appetite for Envy™ apples and a strong planting program is underway to meet global consumer demand.
The New Zealand apple industry only continues to innovate. In 2010, the debut of the Rockit® apple, a miniature cross between Gala and Gala x Splendour apples, created ripples across the globe. Twenty years in the making, Rockits® are naturally one-and-a-half times the size of a golf ball—perfect for an on-the-go snack. They don’t skimp on nutrition, though: Rockits® have 65 percent more potassium, 19 percent more carbohydrates, and 10 percent more fiber than the average apple. Plus, they come in biodegradable packaging, which delivers convenience and portability in eco-conscious style.
What apples varieties will take over your local produce section in the years to come? Major contenders include New Zealand’s CherishTM variety, a cross between Pacific Rose and Pinkie apples that saw its first commercial harvest in 2018. Candy-pink colored with firm flesh, every slice delivers tropical sweetness with a crisp bite. Look, too, for Miranda apples, a surprisingly sweet yellow-green variety that appeared as a chance seedling—a rarity for commercially-produced apples. Or perhaps the next big fruit won’t be an apple at all. Consider the Piqa® Boos, a natural cross between European and Asian pears. The new-to-market fruit, which is earning fans around the globe, offers sweet and fresh flavor with bright red skin and brilliant white, crisp flesh.
Need some fruity inspiration in the kitchen? Throw apples into a crunchy-topped apple pandowdy spiked with cinnamon, or call on them to enliven a brunch-worthy sausage-and-egg frittata. The recipe potential is nearly endless. New Zealand apples and pears are also an excellent addition to everything from over-the-top cheese plates (pair them with everything from creamy Bries to funky blue cheeses) to epic, seasonally driven salads. Or, best of all, just eat them on their own—these fruits are the perfect natural snack.
Another ingredient to New Zealand’s agricultural success? Technological innovation. In 2017, a team of scientists and engineers at technology firm Robotics Plus worked with Waikato and Auckland universities to unveil an alien-looking kiwifruit-picking machine. Though its octopus-like tentacles may look strange, they’re indisputably effective; designed to move swiftly beneath the vines, the sophisticated gadget relies on a futuristic imaging system to coax out and gently pluck ripe fruit.
The apple business has also been given the robotics treatment. In 2018, Robotics Plus unveiled its robotic apple packer, which relies on modern recognition software and analysis algorithms to do the work of two people. At a rate of 120 apples per minute, the packing machine quickly orients fruit horizontally in trays, with stems pointed in the same direction and colored sides attractively facing up. The machine works on apples of all varieties, sizes, shapes, and colors.