What is this most unusual vine with flowers that invoke flashbacks to the 60's and a purple/yellow fruit that makes a great margarita? This is nothing other than Liliko'i, more familiarly known as passion fruit, and one of our favorite island treats!
While there are over 500 species of Passiflora only one of the species can be called passion fruit. Within this species (Sims) there are two distinct types of passion fruit, one that produces a purple skinned fruit and another, pictured here, that produces a yellow skinned fruit. In Hawai'i the two varieties are commonly called purple Liliko'i and yellow Liliko'i. Because the purple variety is subtropical while the yellow variety is tropical, Hawai'i tends to possess more of the yellow than purple Liliko'i
Originally from South America, passion fruit spread to Australia where in 1923, Mr. E. N. Reasoner brought the seeds to Hawai'i. Both varieties of passion fruit yield a delicious orange colored juice and edible seeds. Passion fruit is farmed in many countries and the juice extracted into a variety of canned drinks, concentrates, and butters. Passion fruit has a slight tart and citrus taste. It makes a great marinade, or it can be sweetened for a variety of uses such as juice and jams. Both fast growing and prolific, commercial passion fruit farms produce between 20,000 to 40,000 pounds of the delicious fruit per acre.
The vine itself is a perennial and a swift climber. Large deep green leaves produce a dense covering and the stems are tinged with purples and reds.
The most striking thing about the passion fruit vine is the flower. These beautiful flowers are beyond description - resembling something one might see during a dream. The flowers, up to three inches wide, grow individually all over the vine. These fragrant flowers each have five white petals that form the base, which has on top a vivid purple streaked and dotted center. Coming up from the center are 5 bright yellow stamens with large ends and shooting outwards from the center are very fine, whitish 'hairs' to complete this bizarre but beautiful flower.
As the flower ages it begins to close and harden into a young fruit. The fruits start out as dark purplish-green nut shaped fruit that matures to about a 3 inch wide fruit that becomes purple or bright yellow. Within the fruit is the delicious pulpy juice and many small black and brown edible seeds.
Cultivation and propagation of the passion fruit strains is actively practiced around the world as well as in Hawai'i, where a number of 'Hawaiiana' strains have been produced and exported to other growing locations around the world. However, while this is a widely farmed vine, growing passion fruit is not necessarily easy as the flowers are self-sterile.
There are three different types of flowers that can be found on the yellow passion fruit, based on the curvature of the flower. These are
partially curved (PC), and totally curved (TC), and upright-styled (SC). Most interestingly, different circumstances are necessary for each of the different flower to be pollinated. Carpenter bees are the most preferred pollinator as they can handle both PC and TC style flowers. But in many places pollen is carefully applied to each flower by hand to ensure proper pollination.
Both the juice/pulp and seed is edible, but the fruit must be mature, as toxins exist in the immature fruits. While the seeds are edible, it is the fruit that is mostly used. The pulp is normally pressed through a strainer and then bottled as a concentrate. We normally use it combination with water or other juices, along with fine crushed ice and vodka to make a delicious frozen cocktail. In our opinion, Kilauea Lodge in Volcano makes the world's best Liliko'i Margarita. We encourage you to try it our favorite way, substituting vodka for the tequila.
Passion fruit is also used in a reduced form to make jams, syrups and butters. A trip through the local KTA supermarket will yield many delicious foods that incorporate passion fruit.