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What is a Chinese Gooseberry?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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"Chinese gooseberry" is the lesser-known name for the kiwifruit, a popular subtropical fruit that became well known around the world in the 1950s, when it began to be exported from New Zealand on a large scale. This fruit has a characteristic tart, acidic flavor and pulpy green flesh. The fruits are also sometimes called kiwi fruits, or simply kiwis. Whatever consumers call it, it is used in a wide range of dishes and is also eaten out of hand. Many grocery stores carry kiwis in season, and they can also be grown at home in temperate climates.

The fruit is native to Southern China, where it has historically been known by a range of names. In the early 1900s, several plants were imported to New Zealand, where they found a home in some private gardens. The Chinese gooseberry has very decorative foliage and attractive white flowers, so many gardeners grew it as a trailing vine as well as a fruit producing plant. In 1924, a sturdy, large cultivar known as the Hayward was developed, and commercial production began in a serious way.

Beginning in the 1950s, the fruit started to be exported to various countries around the world, including the United States. New Zealand growers changed the name of the fruit to “melonette,” due to concerns about Cold War hostilities between the United States and China that might make a "Chinese" fruit unappealing to the American market. American importers did not like the name, however, leading New Zealand growers to suggest the alternate name of kiwifruit, which quickly caught on.

Several varieties of Chinese gooseberry are grown around the world, including a golden version with sweet, sunny flesh and cold-hardy versions designed for colder climates. The fruits are high in vitamin C and fiber, and they are made into jam, added to fruit salads, and eaten straight. Some consumers enjoy the fuzzy brown skin, while others prefer to scoop the flesh out. Kiwis also contain an enzyme that some people are allergic to, leading to a tinging, sometimes unpleasant feeling around the lips and mouth. In extreme cases, the allergy can be more severe, requiring medical attention. People who are allergic to papayas and pineapples should probably avoid kiwis as well.

Most cultivars of the fruit are hardy through USDA zone eight, as long as they are grown in temperate weather with cool winters and mild summers. Some cultivars have been specifically bred for cooler weather, and they are often available at garden stores in these regions. Since the plant is a vine, it should be planted with a sturdy trellis, and approximately 20 feet (6 meters) should be left between plants. If fruit is a desired, at least one male plant should be planted for every nine female plants. The kiwi prefers well drained soil in full sun exposure, and it should be pruned every year to encourage healthy fruit producing vines. It will take two to four years for a vine to produce fruit after planting.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Judynz — On May 31, 2015

@Bakersdozen We had another fruit that had a name change for marketing. Tree Tomatoes. They are now Tamarillos. I will not call them not this name.

@SarahGen: I recall many times seeing Kiwis in jelly or just sitting on the top. However since very little of our food hasn't been fooled around with, I would say jellies are quite different these days and probably could reject the Kiwi.

By Judynz — On May 31, 2015

As a child of the 40s I was pleased to see this fruit being called by its original name (original for me) I believe it may have come from China in the first instance.

The only time I ever experienced the tingling spoken of was when we picked them. We didn't brush off all the hairy outside properly and ate too many without a spoon.

I came here expecting to see a small golden fruit that when ripe is within a fragile looking skeletal sac. Like a chinese lantern. So we had two Chinese Gooseberries. This should have been confusing.

By SarahGen — On Sep 08, 2012
@fBoyle-- You're wrong about that. You can't put chinese gooseberry a.k.a. kiwifruit in jello. Kiwi has an enzyme in it that prevents jello from setting. That's why on all the jello boxes, it says not to put kiwi in it. So you couldn't have possibly made jello with kiwi.

By ZipLine — On Sep 08, 2012
I wish I could plant a kiwi in my backyard and grow my own kiwifruit. Even though it's one of my favorite fruits, and it's available at all groceries, it's still not affordable. Once in a while, they put it on sale and I can buy three or four. But it's just not something I can afford to eat on a regular basis.

It's a shame because it's one of the fruits that's not so bad for diabetics. It doesn't raise blood sugar like some other fruits do. So I can have a kiwi without worrying about how it's going to affect me afterward.

By fBoyle — On Sep 07, 2012

@Penzance356-- I didn't even know that the skin is edible until now. I never, ever eat the skin. It's just too hard and it's furry! No way! But I love the fruit itself. I usually peel away the skin with a knife which takes like three seconds. I eat the fruit straight or sometimes put it in jello.

I also didn't know that the original name of the fruit is Chinese gooseberry. I have never heard it referred to that way. Plus, kiwi is such a cute name, I once named a parakeet Kiwi. It's also a great fruit, I love the flavor.

By Penzance356 — On Apr 10, 2011

I do like the taste of kiwi fruit, and it is convenient to eat. I put mine in an eggcup and scoop out the flesh. I'm not sure I could manage the skin though! It must be really chewy and tough, though possibly a good source of fiber.

By Bakersdozen — On Apr 09, 2011

I love reading about the history of everyday things. Especially interesting is the way names change -- I mean, who would have ever thought that a Chinese gooseberry and a kiwi could actually be referring to the same thing? I wonder, does anybody else know of any other fruits or vegetables that have had name changes like this?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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