Trying new things on a regular basis is one of the quickest ways to expand your culinary horizons. One good rule is that the more widely popular an exotic food is, the more likely it'll be appealing. You won't find many people outside of Greenland eating fermented shark, for example, and fermented duck eggs don't have much of a following outside of the Philippines. Guavas, on the other hand, are appreciated just about everywhere.
A Guava (Psidium Guajava) Recap
Guavas are one of many tropical fruits that have become widely available outside of their homelands over the past couple of decades, though they're still a novelty to grocery shoppers in more northern climates. In appearance, they're somewhat pear-shaped, with skins ranging from shades of green and yellow-green to a vivid burgundy. The skin is slightly rough.
Our word "guava" comes from guayaba, which is how the fruit is known in the Spanish-speaking world. Most other languages and cultures have similar-sounding names for the fruit, from guavaboom in the Netherlands to aguava in Ghana. To botanists, it's Psidium guajava.
The deceptively similar "pineapple guava" found in many of the same growing regions is actually a completely different plant.
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Testing for Ripeness
Checking a guava for ripeness involves most of your senses. For many of the guavas found in American markets, color can be a useful starting point. Guavas have a green skin with varying tints of yellow, and in many cultivars the green fades and the yellow becomes more prominent as the fruit ripens. In some, you'll see a faint but noticeable flush of pink. That's always a good indicator for ripeness when you see it.
Some guavas stay green, or have a completely different-colored skin, so color isn't a completely reliable test. In those cases, draw on your sense of touch and give the fruit a gentle squeeze. Like a pear, a ripe guava will be firm but have a small degree of "give" when you apply pressure. Another test, useful for any guava, is to give it a sniff. Guavas are remarkably aromatic when they're fully ripe, so fragrance is one of the best tests.
Ultimately, the truest test comes when you cut or bite into the guava, but if you haven't tried one of the other methods beforehand you might be disappointed in the result.
Eating a Guava
The entire guava is edible, including the skin and seeds, so how you approach eating one is largely a matter of choice and personal preference. In countries where they're grown, they're often just cut into wedges like an apple, with the skin and seeds in place.
The skin and seeds can vary in toughness and astringency, though, so you might opt to remove one or the other. The skin can simply be peeled off with a peeler or paring knife, as with most other fruit. You can either eat the guava from around its seedy middle, like you would with an apple and its core, or cut the guava in half and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and pith.
The fruit is used fresh in smoothies and baked goods, pulverized for juice, or cooked down for pies and sauces. It's high in pectin, so it works especially well in jams and jellies.
Storing Your Guavas
If you can't find nicely ripened guavas at your local supermarket, buy the best-looking ones you can find and let them sit out for a few days to finish ripening. It helps if they're in a fruit bowl with quick-ripening fruit like apples or bananas, or if you keep them in a paper bag. Once they're ripe, you can keep them in the fridge to slow the ripening process to a standstill, keeping them in perfect eating condition for a week or more.
Peeled and cut guava should be refrigerated in a plastic bag or airtight food storage container, and used within the first few days. Alternatively, you can blanch the pieces briefly in boiling water and then freeze them, or can them in sugar syrup.
If you live in the southern part of the United States, or if you have a suitable sunroom in your home, you can grow your own guavas. The trees are hardy enough outdoors to withstand some light frost or even brief freezes, once they're established. Indoors, they're mostly trouble-free. Check with your nursery to make sure you're buying a self-pollinating variety, or else buy two so they can produce fruit.
One thing to be wary of, if you're growing guavas outdoors, is that they have significant potential to be an invasive species anywhere the climate is favorable. Check with local authorities or a university extension service in your area before planting one.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.