Guavas are a sweet, fragrant fruit grown on small trees in tropical regions. They are thought to be native to the large rain forest area between Mexico and the northern part of South America. Preserved guava seeds found at ancient Peruvians ruins indicate the guava was cultivated there many centuries ago. Early traders spread guavas to the Caribbean islands and later to Hawaii, Florida, and California in the 1800s. The traders also transported the fruit back across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, India, and Egypt. Today, guavas are grown extensively throughout the tropics in Mexico, Central and South America, and on islands in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean. On some Pacific islands guavas grow so well that they are considered a weed.
Guava trees and fruit
The guava tree is an evergreen small tree or shrub. It has a characteristic copper-colored bark on its slender trunks that peels to reveal a green undercoat. The trees are well suited to a mild tropical environment and will be killed by either frost or hot temperatures. In warmer regions they produce guava fruits two times a year, once between August and September and again between February and April. White flowers are produced and pollinated by honeybees during May and November. Mature trees can produce 300-400 fruits per season. Fruits tend to be harvested and shipped while they are still unripe as ripe fruits bruise easily.
There are many different varieties of guava with different characteristics. The size of the fruit ranges from the size of a golf ball to the size of a very large lemon. It can be round, oblong, or pear-shaped. The thin skin can be yellow, green, or red and the flesh can be white, pink, or red. The most popular variety of guava, the common or lemon guava (Psidium guajava), looks like a large lemon and has a yellow/pink skin with bright pink flesh. The other main variety of guava is the strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum), which is golf ball size and has a red skin. The fruits have two types of flesh; a firmer flesh on the outer section and a softer flesh on the inside, somewhat resembling a cantaloupe. Depending on the variety, there may be small seeds in the softer flesh. Guavas have a mild sweet flavor that is similar to strawberries or other tropical fruits like papaya.
What to do with a guava
When shopping for guavas, try to find ones that are slightly soft to the touch like a ripe peach or avocado. Smell them too, ripe guavas will have a pleasant, tropical scent. Also look for fruits that are uniformly light yellow, as green guavas are under-ripe and will have a bitter taste due to high levels of tannins. If there are no ripe guavas, you can ripen one by placing it in a paper bag at room temperature for a couple of days. Guavas can be stored in the fridge for several weeks. Canned guava can also be found in Asian or Hispanic markets.
Guavas are best eaten raw, simply slice one in half and cut into pieces. You can eat the skin and seeds of the varieties sold in stores. Guavas are also commonly cooked which helps to eliminate their strong odor some find unpleasant. Guava juice and nectar are extremely popular as a refreshing cold or frozen drink or in mixed liquor beverages. Guava paste and jelly are also popular in many countries as a sweet. Guavas freeze and can well and are used in all sorts of recipes, including pies and cakes, jams and chutneys, and puddings.
Guavas have a large amount of vitamin A and pectin, which is a soluble fiber. The edible skin is extremely rich in vitamin C, containing even more than an orange. Indigenous people of the rain forest region use guava leaves to treat various gastrointestinal ailments, especially diarrhea. Leaves from guava trees were recently discovered to contain flavonoids and antioxidants, which may explain their healing properties.
The Joy of Cooking, revised edition, 1997