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Guavas are simply delicious, whether they are fresh, canned, dried, or used for guava juice and fruit blends. They also have a distinctive musky fragrance. But have you ever wondered about origin, history and farming practices of guavas?
Guavas (Psidium guajava) are round or oval-shaped tropical fruit depending on the variety, and they originated from tropical South and Central America (Mexico and Peru). The Portuguese distributed guavas worldwide from Madeira, reaching Mpumalanga, Mozambique, and the Western Cape during the 19th century.
Guavas have a rough but edible skin. When the fruit ripens, the colour will change from green to yellow-green or a pinkish-yellow colour. The flesh of the fruit will be deep pink (red guavas) or off-white (white guavas) and the fruit pulp contains many small, hard seeds. The number and the size of the seeds vary depending on the variety.
In South Africa, guavas are harvested during the winter months, and the season runs from May until September.

Photo: Stock image

The first commercial guava orchard was planted in South Africa 1890 in Paarl by Fan Retief, who was the founder of the South African Guava Industry. In fact, South Africa’s guava industry is primarily based on a local cultivar called Fan Retief, named after the industry’s founder. This variety has vivid salmon pink flesh and accounts for 90% of commercial plantings. The particular salmon pink shade of the Fan Retief guava variety is highly prized by international juice producers.
The guava hybrids that developed as the industry grew were named after the farmers who cultivated them. In addition to the Fan Retief variety, this gave rise to names such as Malherbe, Rousseau, Du Preez and van Zyl.
Mature trees of most varieties are quite frost resistant and can survive temperatures of -4°C but when temperatures are below freezing point; this will probably kill or cause severe damage to younger trees. Temperatures that are very hot during the flowering and fruiting stage can be harmful to the crop.
Cultivated trees are usually pruned to a size of 2 to 3m in height, but if the trees are left unpruned, some varieties can grow up to 8m. The trees can develop fruit from the second year of cultivation and can continue to bear fruit for up to 40 years.
South Africa’s largest production regions are in the Western Cape, Mpumalanga, and the Limpopo provinces. Approximately 45 000 tonnes of guavas are harvested per annum for fresh sales and processing in South Africa. This excludes a large volume of guavas sold by informal traders. The bulk of the guavas (of which 25 000 is produced in the Western Cape) are processed into juice products, while 24% (10 000 tonnes) are sold in the formal fresh markets.
Article by Jacques Burger

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