Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere

Passion Fruit

Passiflora edulis


The passion fruit is a widely loved and widely eaten fruit that originated in central South America.  The English name does not come any aphrodisiacal properties, but the supposed religious symbolism that the plant bears.  There are two common types of passion fruit commonly consumed: the more widespread purple-colored fruit (Passiflora edulis f. edulis) and the yellow-colored fruit (Passiflora edulus f. flavicarpa), which tends to be larger.


The purple passion fruit plant originated in subtropical South America, and is native to an area that stretches from southern Brazil to northern Argentina (Morton).  Though the origin of the yellow passion fruit is unclear, it is believed to have also originated in Amazonian Brazil.  Though neither variety was well recorded before the arrival of Europeans, the fruits are nonetheless believed to have been a part of the native diet. 

According to Davidson, the flower of the Passiflora edulis was known by Spanish missionaries as the Flor de las cinco lagas (flower of the five wounds) because it illustrated the crucifixion of Christ (Davidson).  Hence, the name passion fruit was originated.

Since the 19th century, the purple passion fruit has been disseminated throughout the world as has become an important commercial crop in countries as diverse as Australia, Hawaii, South Africa, and Israel.  Additionally, the passion fruit vine has also become native and grows in the wild in places such as Hawaii and India.  The purple passion fruit has since become a popular fruit in the continental United States as well and is grown in warmer climates such as Florida.

As for the yellow passion fruit, it is less tolerant of the cold and requires tropical growing conditions.  It has gained relative interest in Australia as a commercial crop and has been embraced much more enthusiastically in Venezuela and Hawaii (Morton).


The passion fruit vine can grow in a variety of soil environments.  The vine itself is strong, woody, and can climb up to 15 ft long.  It has three-lobed, glossy green leaves and unusual-looking singular flowers that are colored purple and white (Morton).  Depending on the species, the flowers bloom at various times of the day.  In general, the yellow passion fruit vine produces more brilliant flowers than the purple variety.

The purple passion fruit is of a round shape and approximately 2-3 inches long.  When ripe, the thick, waxy rind grows a wrinkly, deep purple with faint white specks.  The orange, juicy pulp inside contains many small, dark seeds.  The yellow passion fruit tends to be larger and has brown seeds, but the pulp is less appealing and juicy than the purple.

Culinary Usage

            Passion fruit is widely considered one of the most delicious fruits in the world and has a tart, aromatic flavor.  They are commonly eaten fresh by simply halving the fruit and scooping out the pulp.  It is also a popular additive for drinks and each nation has its own unique variation.  In South Africa, it is blended with milk while elsewhere it is a popular flavoring for soft drinks or alcoholic beverages (Morton).  The fruit can also be made into syrup, which is frequently used as a topping for ice creams and ices.

            The pulp of the Passion fruit is also used for a variety of deserts, from cakes and tarts to the meringue-based Pavlova.  

Other Usages

            The pulp, leaves, and flowers of the passion fruit has been long used as a sedative by South American Indians and is noted for its calming effect.  The fruit can also be used as a digestive aid.  In Brazil, the passionflower is also used to make a drink called maracuja grande, which is used to treat throat ailment such as bronchitis and asthma (Taylor).

            The seeds can be pressed into oil to be used for both culinary and paint purposes.



Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Lovera, Jose Rafael. Food Culture in South America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2005. Print.

Morton, Julia. "Passion Fruit.” Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami: Florida Flair Books, 1987. Web.

Popenoe, Wilson. Manual Of Tropical And Subtropical Fruits. New York: MacMillan, 1920. Print.

Roberts, Margaret. Edible & Medicinal Flowers. Cape Town: Claremont, 2000. Print.

Ulmer, Torsten, and John Mochrie MacDougal. Passiflora: Passionflowers of the World. Timber, 2004. Print.

Vaughan, J.G. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.