Scientists Just Can't Seem to Grow a Delicious, Hair-Free Kiwi

Getting rid of the hairy skin of the kiwi fruit while still keeping its sweet, juicy taste is proving to be a more prickly problem than scientists expected.

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Genetic scientists are grappling with a tricky problem that they've been unable to conquer: Getting rid of the hairy skin of the kiwi fruit, without also getting rid of the taste. The Wall Street Journal looks at the efforts of researchers trying to genetically modify the kiwi to remove the brown, hairy outside. The research, led by kiwi-exporting company Zespri and supported by the New Zealand government, has thus far resulted in easily-bruised produce and a taste with "hints of kerosene."

In the company's plan, creating a hairless kiwi would reduce the kiwi's preparation time to basically "grab and eat." While the skin is technically edible, the little hairs are unpleasant, and so people typically cut away the skin and scoop out the insides. A hairless kiwi would make eating it simpler, which could cause more people to go for the kiwi at the supermarket.

Think of the most popular fruits right now: apples, grapes, bananas. They all need minimal prep time. "When you actually look at the top 10 fruits in the world, six of the top 10 are convenience products," Lain Jager, chief executive of Zespri Group Ltd., the world's biggest exporter of kiwis, told The Wall Street Journal. "Having a kiwifruit that you could eat in a convenient way would be fantastic."

But efforts to crossbreed and develop a kiwi without a hairy outside have had costs for the kiwi's taste. The 17 kiwi taste-testers hired to gauge how the scientists efforts are coming along eat about 30 modified kiwis daily while the fruit is in-season. One attempt had a "taste of kerosene." One was "vegetable-y," a tester told The WSJ, and another had candy flavors. The hairless kiwi is still a long way away from the fruit salad bowl.

And when it does join the bowl, the kiwi will rest alongside a number of genetically modified produce. Like grapes, watermelons, and oranges full of seeds, the bitter hairy-skinned kiwi could become a thing of the past.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.