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Guavas

A small tropical fruit that originated in southern Mexico and central America, the guava now is native to the Caribbean and South America and is grown in Florida, California, Hawaii, southern Asia, and parts of Africa. The fruit can be round, ovoid, or pear-shaped and ranges in size from 1 to 4 in. (2.5-10 cm) in diameter. The thin skins, which vary in color from pale yellow to yellow-green, have a slightly bitter taste, so the fruit is usually served peeled. Most varieties have meaty deep-pink flesh, although some are yellow, red, or white. Ripe guavas have a fragrant, musky aroma and a sweet flavor, with hints of pineapple or banana.

By weight, guavas have almost twice as much vitamin C as an orange: One medium guava provides 165 mg, compared to only 75 mg in a fresh orange. One guava also contains 256 mg of potassium and 5 g of fiber; much of it is in the form of pectin, a soluble fiber that lowers high blood cholesterol as well as promoting good digestive function. Folate, phosphorus, and carotene are also present.

About half of the guava fruit is filled with small, hard seeds. Actual seed counts have ranged from 112 to 535. Although in good varieties the seeds are fully edible, most people discard them. If the seeds are eaten, they contribute extra fiber and lesser amounts of the same nutrients found in the flesh.

A VERSATILE FRUIT

With only about 60 calories per fresh guava, the fruit makes an easy, interesting, nonfattening dessert. Simply cut the fruit in half, scoop out the seeds, then spoon out the flesh. A dash of lime juice or lemon juice contrasts nicely with the sweet flavor. Alternatively, you can peel, seed, and chop or slice guavas to add to a fruit salad. Pureed guava flesh in combination with orange or other citrus juice makes a refreshing drink or cold summer soup. Unripe guavas, which are a little too tart and astringent to be eaten raw, can be blended and cooked with defatted meat juice to make a low-calorie sauce for roasts and poultry dishes.

Look for fresh guavas during the late fall and early winter. When selecting guavas, choose fruits that are firm but not hard. A guava is ripe when the skin yields slightly when pressed. As with almost any fruit, flavor is best when the guava is allowed to ripen on the tree, but green mature fruit will ripen at room temperature. Placing the fruit in a brown paper bag with a banana or apple will hasten ripening.

Gourmet sections in supermarkets carry increasing numbers of guava products -- jams, jellies, dried sheets, nectar, and a type of fruit paste called guava cheese. Canned guava is also available, but it is usually processed with large amounts of sugar, Dried guavas are often treated with sulfites, which may provoke asthma attacks or allergic reactions in susceptible persons. Dehydrated guavas are powered and added to ice cream, candies, and fruit juices for extra flavor.

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