Lilikoi, or as it’s commonly known on the mainland “passion fruit”, is a perennial climbing vine. The woody plant has a shallow root system. It makes use of tendrils to climb whatever it can grasp and pull itself up to find the sun. The purple variety of passion fruit common in Hawaii first made an appearance in the late 1800s when seeds were brought over from Australia.
The leaves of the passion fruit vine are a deep, glossy green on top. They fade to a lighter green to yellow underneath. They can get to be about 8 inches long with serrated edges and make a nice backdrop for the flowers.
The flowers are the true showstoppers on this evergreen plant. The single blooms form on each node of new vine growth. They are up to 3 inches wide and extremely fragrant. The striking contrast of purple and white is what first grabs your eye. Look closer at the different textures of the rigid petals and fringe-like corona. It might just make you want to reach out and touch the beautiful flower.
The fruit of the passion fruit vine is not quite round and measures up to 3 inches wide. The tough, waxy rind varies in color from light yellow to pumpkin to deep purple with white speckles. The inside of the fruit has a layer of white pith surrounding pulpy, juice-filled membranes and a large number of seeds. The taste of the fruit varies in sweetness and acidity and is often compared to the guava and its musky scent.
Passion fruit is most commonly used as a juice or flavoring for other drinks or sweets. It can be eaten as is or added to salads. Hawaiians often cut the fruit in half and scoop out the seeds before eating. Lilikoi is a favorite choice in shaved ice, ice cream, and other baked desserts like cheesecake or cookies. A sweet and tart syrup is made to use as a meat or vegetable glaze or marinade. The fruit is also processed for used in jams, jellies, and butters.
There is a lot of interest in the use of passion fruit juice or extract for treating those with digestive or gastric issues. It has been found to have sedative type properties that affect people differently. Some find it relaxing while others become overstimulated. There are cautions for those taking sedatives to avoid passion fruit as it could cause unwanted side effects.
Passion fruit is full of vitamins (especially A and C), iron, antioxidants, fiber, and potassium. These ingredients combined with the other minerals and nutrients work to tackle health problems. This includes high blood pressure, cancer, compromised immunity, and heart health. Insomniacs and those with respiratory issues also gain benefits from passion fruit use.