A Complete Guide To Hawaii’s Passion Fruit: The Lilikoi

Whether you have been to Hawaii or not, you have probably heard of the passion fruit, but you may not have heard of Lilikoi.

Whether you are looking something up from a local Hawaiian menu or have just heard people talking about Lilikoi, you can rest assured this is basically the same thing as the passion fruit you can find at your local greengrocers. 

A Complete Guide To Hawaii’s Passion Fruit: The Lilikoi

Yet, many don’t realize that the history of the passion fruit, or the Lilikoi, is very  much entangled with that of Hawaii. Keep reading to learn about this fruit, its history, how to cook it, and what it can tell us about Hawaii.

Horticultural Description

In order to get the passion fruit, it has to first come from a flower, the passion flower, or as it is known by its latin name: Passiflora edulis.

Edulis is merely one, quite common, variation of the wider Passiflora genus. The Passifloraceae tribe is super rich and has over 550 species, but the Passiflora genus has most of them. T

he passion flower is actually a flowering vine, rather than a normal flower, which then births the famed fruit from the flower itself.

In terms of distribution, the flower is mainly endemic to tropical and subtropical areas, mainly in Mexico, Central America, the US, and South America.

Part of this is due to the Passiflora genus having generally evolved for biotic pollination.

This simply means the Passion flower has adapted to exist alongside specific pollinators, which is part of why it is endemic to tropical and sub tropical areas, and also feeding many birds, particularly hummingbirds

Etymology: Lilikoi Or Passion Fruit?

You may be asking if Lilikoi and the passion fruit are different or if they are the same thing.

We can tell you they are basically the same thing, Lilikoi essentially refers to the passion flowers that grow in Hawaii, but to understand why these differing names exist, we should take a dip into the flowers’ history, as well as Hawaii’s.

Most Christian based cultures, particularly in Europe will refer to the plant as the passion fruit. You may be surprised to hear this is very much a reference to Christian theology itself.

Spanish Christian missionaries, those who also arrived in Hawaii, used the flowers’ unique morphology as a way of explaining the Catholic story of Crucifixion and the stages of the cross.

Their idea was that they could use something those on the tropical continents would understand, the passion flower, in order to explain something they aren’t familiar with, the Catholic religion.

Passion and suffering, in their latin roots, often refer to suffering in Christianity rather than passion in a romantic sense.

The pointed tips of the Passiflora represent the Holy Lance, the tendrils are the whips used on Jesus, the ten petals and sepal represent the apostles, and the radial filament refer to the crown of thorns – it goes on.

Outside the Catholic continents, where the religion is not endemic, they historically referred to the plant as a ‘clock flower’ or something similar which interprets the flower’s morphology a little differently.

This brings us to the Lilikoi, or liliko’i, which is the Hawaiian word for the plant, referring to the morphology of the flower in their own way.

Culinary Uses

There are many culinary uses of passion fruit across the world, through exports most countries can have access to the fruit, but there are particular uses in Hawaii where it grows naturally and widely.

The fruit has a tough skin that is not eaten, but the seeds of the passionfruit, the inside of the skin, is the part you want, it is often scooped out with a spoon and made into a whole host of unique uses in the kitchen

Lilikoi syrup is a common use of the fruit and is also a really popular topping on shave ice, a classic Hawaiian treat.

Many enjoy using the syrup to marinade meats, use in poke bowls, or to flavor a whole host of desserts such as cheesecake, ice, mochi and more, even in jams or jelly.

Passion fruit, across the world, is also a really common ingredient in smoothies, cocktails, and fruit juice alike for its uniquely rich and sweet flavor that is unlike anything else, sour, sweet, and sometimes savory. 

One recipe unique to Hawaii is Lilikoi Butter! Check out some recipes below.

A Complete Guide To Hawaii’s Passion Fruit: The Lilikoi

Passion Fruit/Lilikoi Pureé

Many will suggest the best way to use lilikoi and passion fruit is to create a pureé of the fruit. This can be used in multiple recipes, particularly the ones listed below, but is also pretty economical.

This is a great way to get loads of passionfruit into something usable and scalable, allowing you to preserve their ripening season and use them throughout the summer and even into the colder months for a burst of sunshine in a cocktail or on a pastry.

The recipe is simple and only requires the seeds to be separated from the already existing pureé in the fruit.

Lilikoi Butter

While this may be labeled ‘butter’ you can consider it to be more of a curd,  like lemon curd, but with the passion fruit. It is really tangy and is ideal for other more savory items.

You could simply have it on toast, or on a croissant, or anything you like, the curd has many uses and is pretty versatile. You could mix it into ice cream, add some to a shaken cocktail, or anything similar.

The method is pretty simple and is quite like any curd. We love it because it can be pretty scalable depending on the amount of lilikoi you may have.

If you have a lot of lilikoi in your Hawaiian garden, or have just come across a lot of them, this is perhaps the ideal way to preserve them as it can have multiple uses in this form.

Lilikoi Mojito Cocktail

When we are in the sun and heat, there is nothing better than a cooling cocktail to really remind you to relax. Whether you want it to be boozy or not, this combination of mint and passion fruit is such a winner.

Both sour and menthol, sweet and subtle, the two work together really well and are both abundant in the subtropical continent. There’s nothing like the cooling mint and warming passion fruit to accompany a Hawaiian sunset!

Passion Fruit Pudding

If you are passionate about desserts, this passion fruit pudding could be the next show stopping centerpiece at any summer gathering or occasion.

For those who like the sweetness of lilikoi this is a great way to use a good amount of the fruit in one go, with a relatively simple recipe that can actually create something really special for little work.

The pudding is self saucing, simple and a true summer treat that can be dressed up quite a lot to blow your guests away.

What Are The Health Benefits?

The passion fruit, like any other fruit, is full of nutrients and vitamins while still remaining sweet and nutritious. Expect your key nutrients like Vitamin A, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, fiber, phosphorus, niacin, and vitamin B-6. 

One way in which the passion fruit is hailed nutritionally is in its richness of antioxidants. Antioxidants are really helpful to keeping the body’s general systems healthy.

This can play a vital role in supporting the body’s heart health, blood flow, as well as being useful for inflammation.

The pulp of the passion fruit actually has more fiber than you would expect, something Americans are often chronically low in, which can in turn help with lowering cholesterol.

Those who suffer from diabetes may be interested to learn that the passion fruit, for all its sugar and sweetness, actually has quite a low glycemic index, meaning it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels so radically.

Beyond this, research suggests a compound found in passion fruit seeds could actually improve a person’s sensitivity to insulin, which can really help reduce the risk of diabetes.

More important now than before, is how the passion fruit can be a useful aid to the immune system, thanks to it being so rich in  Vitamin C, which also allows for more iron to be absorbed by the body itself.

Final Thoughts

What should be clear is that the passion fruit, or the lilikoi, represents a lot more than just a flower or fruit. For many in Europe the passion flower can represent their religion and is a useful tool of extrapolation.

It was interestingly used by the Christian missionaries and the name seems to have stuck for many of the European countries that are based in Catholicism.

Interestingly, the countries and cultures that aren’t so heavily based in the Christian religion actually have quite different names for the plant which can often come from their own cultural interpretation of the flower’s morphology. 

Namely, in Hawaii it is known as the lilikoi and is a really popular and versatile fruit.  The recipes suggested show how the fruit is versatile and can be used for loads of different culinary usages, no matter where you are. 

Richard Ennis

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