History of Kiwifruit

U.S. History

Kiwifruit (then known as "Chinese Gooseberries" or "Yang Tao") plants were first exported to the United States in 1904, but it wasn't until 1935 that agricultural testing of the berries began. Carl Heinke was the first commercial grower of California Kiwifruit. He planted nine Chinese Gooseberry vines next to his grape vines in Paradise, California in 1960 at the request of his friend, Bob Smith. Smith was employed by the U.S. Plant Introduction Gardens which was conducting research on plants. His job was to determine potential for commercial production of the Chinese Gooseberries in California.

In 1966, Smith gave Kiwifruit seeds to George Tanimoto in Gridley, California. Tanimoto planted the seeds in a nursery and transferred the resulting vines to an acre of land in his vineyard in 1968. His Kiwifruit harvest in 1970 yielded 1,200 pounds. The official crop estimate for the 1989 harvest is nine million tray and tray equivalents (approximately 63 million pounds). Approximately 8,000 acres are devoted to the production of Kiwifruit in the U.S. California Kiwifruit represents 95 percent of all Kiwifruit grown in the U.S.

New Zealand was already exporting Kiwifruit to the U.S. while Heinke and Tanimoto were planting the vines. New Zealand Kiwifruit was first served at Trader Vic's in San Francisco in 1961. The first consumer request for Kiwifruit occurred in 1962, when a customer asked a produce manager at her local Safeway supermarket for Chinese Gooseberries. Never having heard of the fruit, the manager contacted produce dealer Frieda Caplan. Although unfamiliar with the exotic fruit at the time, Caplan was introduced to the gooseberry by a San Francisco wholesaler a few months later. Caplan began importing New Zealand Kiwifruit in 1962. California Kiwifruit found their way into the U.S. market in 1970 when Caplan's company, Frieda's Fresh Produce, purchased Tanimoto's entire harvest. By 1980, both California and New Zealand Kiwifruit had become popular with the introduction of French nouvelle/California cuisine.

Chinese Origin

The history of the Kiwifruit began in the Chang Kiang Valley of China. Called Yang Tao, it was considered a delicacy by the great Khans who relished the fruit's brilliant flavor and emerald-green color. Knowledge of the fruit expanded to other countries in the mid 1800s to 1900s. A collector for the Royal Horticultural Society of Britain sent samples home in 1847, and another sent seeds to England in 1900.

Plants were first exported from China to the United States in 1904, and seeds were brought to New Zealand in 1906. Kiwifruit is available worldwide today and is produced in New Zealand, the United States, Italy, Japan, France, Greece, Spain, Australia and Chile.

Due to California Kiwifruit's late fall harvest, fresh Kiwifruit is available to U.S. And Canadian consumers during the winter months, an uncommon time for the "homegrown" fresh fruits. With proper storage and handling, California Kiwifruit is available for up to eight months—from October through May. The New Zealand season is exactly opposite. The combination of the two harvesting seasons allows consumers to enjoy fresh Kiwifruit all year.


Kiwifruit-Sauced Chicken

  • 4 chicken thighs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 8 each small onions* and small mushrooms**
  • 2 tablespoons white wine or water
  • 1/4 teaspoon tarragon or oregano, crushed
  • 2 kiwifruit, pared and sliced

Dry chicken; season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in medium-sized skillet. Place chicken, skin-side down, in skillet; brown over medium heat until golden. Turn chicken; add onions and mushrooms. sauté until chicken and vegetables are golden brown. Add wine and tarragon. Simmer, covered, about 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked and tender. Add kiwifruit; cook and stir gently about 1 minute or until kiwifruit is thoroughly heated. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 servings.

*One large onion, cut into eighths, can be substituted.

**Four large mushrooms, halved, can be substituted.


Kiwifruit Cheesecake

  • 1 package (12-1/8 oz.) no-bake cheesecake
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 kiwifruit, pared and sliced
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons apple jelly
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Prepare no-bake cheesecake as directed on package, adding cinnamon to crust ingredients. When cheesecake has set, arrange kiwifruit on top. Melt jelly and lemon juice together, spoon over kiwifruit. Makes 8 to 10 servings.


Provided by California Kiwifruit Commission

This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

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This page modified January 2007

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