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Image: Archi Banal
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KaiMarch 24, 2023

Ingredient of the week: Feijoas

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for feijoa lovers – here’s how to make the most of it.

Fragrant and sweet, with a delicate jelly centre surrounded by gritty, tangy flesh, all encased in a green sour skin. My parents’ feijoa tree has just dropped its first fruit, so there’s no doubt in my mind – it’s feijoa week. 

Although feijoas are native to South America and are also grown in the US and the UK, no one loves feijoas like New Zealanders do. They’re one of the most common fruit trees in our gardens, and even out of season they pop up everywhere – sour feijoa lollies, creamy feijoa yoghurt, feijoa fizzy drinks, “feijoa frenzy” smoothie, feijoa ice cream – all pinnacles of kiwi ingenuity. 

A good friend of mine eats her feijoas whole. She scoops out the middle with a spoon and then nibbles through the skin – just the thought of that sharp sourness makes my mouth fill with saliva. I’ve never eaten the skin of feijoa, but maybe it’s the next step in feijoa devotion, and I’m just not quite ready yet.

My family literally refers to autumn as “feijoa season”, and one of my earliest memories is of going feijoa hunting in the garden with my mum and sister, ducking under branches and picking the cold, dewy feijoas out of the grass. From our single feijoa tree, each day in April we would gather a bowl full of fruit, and then simply sit and spoon it into our mouths. It’s incredible we didn’t all spend autumn constipated. 

Feijoas are difficult to explain if you’ve never tried one, which is perhaps why they aren’t the popular kid everywhere. The Guardian describes the feijoa flavour as “soapy-citrus”, while produce export company Pole to Pole describes feijoas by comparing them to no less than five other fruit: “Many liken them to guavas or quince, but their complex flavour also brings to mind strawberries and pineapple, with a pear-like gritty texture, and a hint of mint.” 

South American countries have named them the “pineapple guava” and the “fig guava”. But none of these descriptions is quite right, because the feijoa is its own sensation, tangy and wonderful enough to guide us into the cooler months still with a sense of fruit magic. Yes, our sodden and disappointing summer has really come to an end – but at least it’s feijoa season. 

The humble/mighty feijoa (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

Where to find feijoas

The best feijoa is free, and has been allowed to fully ripen on your tree until it falls to the ground, and is swiftly scooped up to safety in your fruit bowl. Feijoas of nearby friends, family, colleagues and neighbours are likewise excellent. 

While I feel it’s wrong to pay for a feijoa, it is an option if you’re desperate. Currently, Countdown sells feijoas for $10.99/kg (about 77c each) and New World for $9.99/kg. Pak’nSave doesn’t seem to have feijoas yet, while Supie is selling 3 feijoas for $3.99. Bought feijoas tend to be less sweet, as they’re often picked from the tree rather than being allowed to fully ripen. 

How to make feijoas terrible

There’s one thing that has put a dampener on feijoa season, and that’s the guava moth. The Australian native was reported in New Zealand in 1997, and has wreaked some havoc, their larvae boring into fruit to feed. My parents’ tree has suffered through years of feijoa blight, which means dedicated teaspoon-digging around larvae and their mucky tunnels to get a bite of fruit. 

Even then, I wouldn’t say the feijoas are terrible – I still find the digging worthwhile. But if a guava moth shows up on your doorstep hoping for a cosy home in your tree… don’t invite it inside. I do have to commend the moth’s good taste, regardless. Guava moth larvae feed on feijoas, as well as guava, macadamia, plums, peaches, nashi pears, lemons and mandarins. Not a bad life. 

A final word on the “terrible” note. In our national love of feijoas, sometimes we go too far and put a feijoa where it doesn’t really belong. For me, feijoa flavoured chocolate is on the boundary of this, and feijoa jam is right slam dunk in the middle. Out of desperation to avoid feijoa waste, my mum made feijoa jam once, and I believe she was the only person who soldiered through and ate it. 

Feijoa cake (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

How to make feijoas amazing

A good fresh feijoa is very difficult to beat, but because feijoas only last for a couple of days in the fruit bowl, a few recipes are helpful to plough through the middle of the season. I advocate for apple and feijoa crumble, and even feijoa sorbet and feijoa chutney if you’re feeling experimental. 

However, my hands-down favourite feijoa recipe is this feijoa cake. If I could only make one cake for the rest of my life, this would be it. It’s so light, moist, and fragrant, with gooey feijoa and a subtle hint of lemon zest. Imagine a more delicate and sophisticated banana cake, and you’re on the right track. You can also use the same batter to make feijoa muffins, perfect for lunchboxes – and I’ve even known feijoa-shunners to enjoy it.  

Feijoa cake batter (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

If you’re lucky enough to be overwhelmed by your feijoa crop this year, and not even friends and family have big enough tummies to help you out, here’s a tip. If you scoop the flesh from your feijoas, you can freeze it in snaplock bags for up to 12 months (mine never last that long). I always freeze 1 cup of pulp per bag, so I can make it straight into feijoa cakes throughout the year.

The other thing I do with both frozen and fresh feijoa is add it to my porridge. That might sound weird, but it’s become one of my favourite chilly-morning breakfasts. All I do is add a quarter cup of rolled oats to a small pot, along with a quarter cup of milk, a pinch of salt, and enough water to make the oats slosh around quite freely in the bottom. Simmer for 7-10 minutes, until the porridge has thickened but is still pretty sloppy, then stir in the feijoa. Cook for another 2 minutes, serve into a bowl, and add a little drizzle of cream. Honestly, just the best.

Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, and runs a weekly meal plan that connects to online supermarket shopping.

Read all the previous Ingredients of the Week here.

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