A BRIEF HISTORY OF FRUITS

By Tim Lambert

Almonds

Almonds are native to western Asia. They are mentioned in the Bible and the Egyptians grew them. The Romans grew almonds and they have been popular ever since.

Apple

The apple has been grown for thousands of years. It was well known to the Ancient China and Egypt. Apples were also known to the Greeks and Romans and they were popular through all the centuries to the present day.

Apricot

Apricots originally came from China. In ancient times they spread across Persia to the Mediterranean region and the Romans knew them. Later the Arabs grew apricots. Apricots were grown in England from the 16th century.

Avocado

Avocados first grew in Central America and the Spanish discovered them in the 16th century. In the 19th century avocados were introduced to the USA and Australia. However in Europe avocados were not normally eaten until the late 20th century.

Bananas

Bananas are native to Southeast Asia. However by 500 BC they were being grown in India. Alexander the Great ate them and his men took them back to the Western World. By 200 AD bananas were grown in China. Bananas were probably taken to Madagascar by the Arabs and spread from there to mainland Africa. In the 16th century the Portuguese took bananas to the New World. The first recorded sale of bananas in England was in 1633 however they were expensive until the end of the 19th century.

Blackberries

Blackberries grew in Europe, Asia and North and South America. For thousands of years people ate blackberries and since ancient times they were used as a medicine.

Blackcurrant

In the Middle Ages and for centuries afterwards blackcurrants were used as a medicine. During World War II the government encouraged people to grow them as they were a rich source of vitamin C. Most were made into cordial and blackcurrant drinks have remained popular in Britain since then.

Blueberry

Blueberries are native to North America. They were eaten by Native Americans (sometimes with meat). They were also used as a medicine. Europeans learned how to grow blueberries and from the late 19th century they were canned.

Breadfruit

Breadfruit is native to Indonesia and Malaysia. It was spread to the Pacific by the Polynesians. The in the 18th century Europeans took breadfruit to the West Indies and Central America.

Cherries

Cherries are native to Asia. They were eaten by the Chinese, the Greeks and the Romans. However in Northern Europe cherries only really became popular in the late Middle Ages. In the 17th century colonists took cherries to North America.

Fig

Figs have been grown in the Middle East since prehistoric times. They were mentioned in Sumer (Iraq) as early as 2,500 BC. They were a staple food in Egypt and were later grown by the Greeks and Romans. Figs were probably introduced to China in the 8th century AD. Figs were taken by Spaniards to the Americas in the 16th century. Figs were also introduced to England in the 16th century.

Gooseberry

Gooseberries are native to Europe and Western Asia. They were first mentioned in England in the 16th century when they were grown as a medicine. However in the 19th century they were a popular food. The name gooseberry may simply be goose berry because they were eaten with goose or it may be a corruption of the Dutch word kruisbes, which means cross berry.

Grapefruit

It is not known exactly how grapefruit originated. It is believed to be a hybrid of two other fruits. At any rate grapefruit was first recorded in the West Indies in the mid-18th century.

Grapes

Grapes are native to Asia and they were grown before 4,000 BC. Grapes were, obviously, used to make wine but they were also eaten as a fruit and they were popular with the Greeks and Romans and have been ever since.

Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts are believed to be native to Asia. They were grown by the Chinese and also by the Greeks and the Romans. Hazelnuts were first grown in the USA in the 18th century.

Kiwi fruit

Kiwifruits are native to Southeast Asia. Although grown in China for centuries they were not commercially grown in the West until the 20th century. In the last years of the 20th century kiwi fruit became very popular.

Lemons

Lemons originally came from Southern Asia. They later reached the Middle East and they were known to the Romans although they were rare in the Roman Empire. Later the Arabs introduced lemons to Spain and Sicily. In the 15th century lemons became popular in northern Europe.

Limes

Limes are native to Southern Asia. The Arabs took them to the Mediterranean area and later the Crusaders took them to Europe. Columbus took limes to the West Indies. From 1795 British sailors were given rations of lime juice to prevent scurvy.

Loganberry

Loganberries are hybrids of blackberries and raspberries. They were first grown in 1880 or 1881 by John H. Logan.

Lychees

Lychees are native to China, where they have been grown for centuries. However lychees were unknown in Europe until the 18th century. From the late 19th century lychees were grown in Hawaii, California and Florida and southern Africa.

Mango

Mangos are native to southern Asia. In the 10th century Persian merchants brought them to the Middle East and by the 18th century they were grown in South America and the West Indies.

Melons

The early history of melons in unclear. However melons are probably native to western Asia. They were known in China and they were cultivated by the Arabs. In the Middle Ages they were imported into Europe. In the 16th century melons were taken to the New World by the Spanish.

Oranges

Oranges are native to China and they were grown in that country as early as 2,500 BC. The Romans imported oranges but after the fall of Rome they were forgotten in Western Europe. When the Arabs conquered Spain in the 8th century they introduced oranges. Later they were introduced into Italy. In the 16th century Spaniards took oranges to the Americas. In the 17th century rich Englishmen began growing oranges.

Passion fruit

Passion fruits were native to central South America. They were given their name by the Spaniards who were reminded of the passion of Christ. Passion fruits were introduced into England and Australia in the 19th century.

Pawpaw

The pawpaw is native to North America. The Spanish discovered the pawpaw in 1541. However pawpaws did not become popular in Europe until the end of the 20th century.

Peaches

Peaches came from China where they were grown by 800 BC. Later the Persians grew them and the Romans ate them. Peaches were brought to the Americas in the 16th century. They were grown in England by the 17th century but they were rare and expensive until the 20th century.

Peanuts

Peanuts are native to South America although they later spread to Mexico. Europeans discovered them in the 16th century and took them to other parts of the world.

Pears

Pears are native to Europe and North Asia. Pears were grown by the Greeks and by the Romans. Pears were grown in England in the Middle Ages and many new varieties were grown in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. As well as being eaten pears were used to make perry.

Pineapple

Pineapples originally grew in South America and Christopher Columbus discovered them in 1493. However during the 16th and 17th centuries pineapples were very expensive in Europe as they had to be imported. By the early 18th century pineapples were grown in hothouses in Northern Europe but they were still very costly. In the 19th century pineapples became cheaper. Pineapples were first canned in the late 19th century but canned pineapple first became common in the early 20th century.

Plums

Plums are an ancient fruit. They grew wild in Europe, Asia and North America. Plums were grown by the Ancient Chinese and the Romans and later by the Arabs. The Crusaders brought damsons back from the Middle East to Europe. Today plums are one of the worlds most popular fruits.

Pomegranate

Pomegranates were native to Iran and they have been grown for thousands of years. They were eaten by the Egyptians and also by the Ancient Chinese, the Greeks and the Romans. Pomegranates were known in Europe in the Middle Ages and they were mentioned by Shakespeare. Pomegranates were introduced into the New World in the 16th century. Pomegranate is believed to be a corruption of the old French words pome garnete, which meant seed apple.

Raspberries

Raspberries are native to Asia. The Romans grew them and they were also grown in England from the Middle Ages onward. Raspberries were used as a medicine as well as a food.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is native to China and for thousands of years people believed it was a medicine. Rhubarb was grown in Europe in the 17th century and by the 18th century it was used as a food as well as medicine. In the 19th century rhubarb became a popular food in North America.

Satsumas

Satsumas were first recorded in Japan where they were grown for centuries. Satsumas were introduced into the USA in the 19th century.

Strawberries

Strawberries grew wild in Europe and eastern North America. They were grown by the Romans and were a popular fruit in Europe during the Middle Ages. In the 19th century strawberries became widely cultivated in the USA. Nobody knows why they are called strawberries. They may once have been called strewn berries because the berries are strewn on the plant. Or the name may come from the old word strew, which meant to spread because runners spread from the plant.

Tangerine

Tangerines are native to Asia. They were introduced into Europe in the early 19th century and they were named Tangerines because they came from the port of Tangier in North Africa. Tangerines were introduced into the USA in the mid-19th century.

Walnuts

Walnuts first grew in Persia. They were grown by the Greeks and later by the Romans and walnuts spread through Europe. Walnuts were well known in England in the 16th century.

Watermelons

Watermelons are native to Africa. They were grown in ancient Egypt and later their cultivation spread throughout the Mediterranean region. Later Europeans took them to the New World.

A brief history of vegetables

A brief history of food

A brief history of herbs and spices

A brief history of sweets

A brief history of biscuits and cakes

A brief history of condiments

A brief history of desserts

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Last revised 2014

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