Passiflora foetida. Edible Passion fruit in Ubud, Bali © 2009 Neil Gale Magic of Life Butterfly House

Passion flowers Passiflora | Which Passion fruit are edible?

I am often asked if the common passion flower P. caerulea, has edible Passionfruit. They are edible when ripe (going from green to orange yellow) but are usually insipid though some are tastier than others. Note Always let fruit drop rather than trying to pull it off. Some Passion fruit are toxic, even some of the edible ones may be when unripe. Read more

Varieties

The most widely grown Passionfruit are the hard shelled P. edulis varieties. These all germinate very readily and keep relatively well. Perhaps 40 or more Passiflora have fruit we would judge as edible, of those 10 or so may be grown as food crops for local consumption, but most of these have soft fruit which do not keep or travel well. e.g. P. tripartita var. mollissima and other Tacsonia which taste good but deteriorate quickly after harvest. I have tasted some which have made their way to UK and they are not great. Many also are quite full of  crunchy seed which are not appealing.

Passiflora market fruit © Christopher Howell

Christopher Howell comments:-

‘The picture above is a mix of high altitude and lowland Passiflora species that I collected in western Venezuela in the early ’90s. Miguel Molinari & Tim Skimina from the Passiflora Society International accompanied me on the trip. The photo was originally loaned to John MacDougal at the Missouri Botanical Garden to use in the garden’s 2000 Passifloraceae poster.’

Commercial passion fruit juice production

The world market production is estimated by Passion fruit juice, a great site with plenty of information about edible passion fruit, at 640 000 metric tonnes per annum, the bulk of which is the yellow fruited P. edulis flavicarpa. Commercially available passion fruit juice is almost always P. edulis based. The purple and yellow (flavicarpa) varieties and crosses between the two are grown commercially everywhere from South America to Africa, Asia, Australia and U.S.A. The juices and indeed the fresh pulp from the fruit with or without the seeds are used worldwide in exotic tropical drinks, cocktails, cordials, liqueurs (e.g. blended with Cointreau and Cognac), chocolates, sauces, ice creams, sorbets and more. Type ‘Passion fruit recipe’ or ‘Passion fruit drink’ into Google to see what is out there. Even better buy Patrick Worley’s great Passionfruit cookbook.

Passion fruit taste characterists
Passion fruit and their juice bring their unique taste and smell, a combination of acidity and sweetness with an intense distinctive perfumed aromatic smell that almost defines the tropics. Many would say that as a group they are the best tasting fruit and juice in the world. It is a rare tropical juice mix without passion fruit juice in it, often as just a small percentage as its intensity is so great.  In UK Rubicon Exotic Juice Drinks make an excellent range of exotic drinks including still and fizzy purple passion fruit juice in bottles, cartons and cans. The cartons are very widely available and are very good indeed. Unbeatable outdoors in summer.

The tastiest passion fruit?

The fruit are widely available worldwide, usually being  P. edulis, purple fruit, P. edulis flavicarpa, yellow fruit or occasionally P. ligularis, orange fruit with a hard brittle shell. These all keep relatively well compared with other species. Opinions vary widely as to which are the tastiest fruit, partly this is of course subjective. If fruit are picked too early however, and are not given time to ripen fully in the sun, they can be lacking in juice and taste even if grown in ideal conditions. Many do not travel well so if they are not grown locally you will never know how good they are. Also if a plant is being grown outside its normal habitat with regard to either sunshine, day length, rainfall, temperature or soil, it may not taste as good as it should. The fruit of some edible species are shown above.

P. Tripartita var. mollissima

The fruit are often described as insipid but that is probably due to species confusion with P. tarminiana fruit which are not very great. Martin Murray reports that grown in Costa Rica it has a lovely sherbert taste. The plants are being grown there outside their usual conditions under shade cloth, probably not native to Costa Rica, and so are prone to disease and are scrapped each year and fresh plants grown from seed.

Climacteric fruit

“Fruits and vegetables can be classified as climacteric or non-climacteric. Climacteric fruit continue to ripen after harvest, whereas non-climacteric do not. Ripening is a process that includes development of color, flavor and texture (softening).” Elizabeth Baldwin USDA © Cirad 2001. Passion fruit are climacteric, other examples are banana, mango, papaya, avocado, and guava. This means that the ripening process continues after abscission (when the fruit drops). Compare this with the non-climacteric strawberry, an unripe strawberry never ripens once picked too early.

Ripening

I think we tend to assume that once the Passion fruit has dropped it is ripe. For some species e.g. Decaloba it may be, and for eating it may be, but if we want viable seed from it, to maximise chances of successful germination, it will do no harm to leave the fruit in a sunny window for 1-2 weeks after it has dropped. Wild collectors report that fruit picked from the vine may contain seed at different stages of ripening, including viable seed though its keeping properties are reduced. . An adaptation perhaps so that even if an animal eats the fruit early instead of waiting for it to drop some seed will still germinate. In Guam P. suberosa fruit is eaten by bats that land on the forest canopy to eat them.

Toxicity

I would recommend only eating ripe fruit from commercial sources like shops and markets. For more detail re toxicity, especially of the potentially dangerous unripe fruit even in edible species, . Generally the smell of cyanide and the taste will put anyone off eating the unripe fruit. In the interests of science I have carefully tasted small amounts of ripe fruit of many Passiflora species. Please do not try this yourselves. See the hybrid and species pictures section where the taste of most that have fruited will be recorded. Many like P. caerulea and any hybrids with caerulea as a parent are bland, some taste dreadful (P. kermesina) and some taste toxic (P. trisecta), perhaps safe for certain animals only. There is also a question over the safety of P. manicata fruit. It is known in Ecuador as ‘diablito’ because of its hallucinogenic properties. Read more