Lilikoi: the name itself sounds like poetry, rolling off the tongue with a lyrical, percussive rhythm. Those from the mainland might be more familiar with the name of passionfruit, which has its own uniquely romantic aura. No matter what you call it, you’ll never forget this tropical treat after your first encounter.
Native to Brazil, lilikoi was introduced to Hawaii via Australia around 1880, where it quickly took root in the fertile volcanic soil. Once found only in fruit punch farther afield, Hawaiian passion fruit is now available fresh, frozen, and pureed worldwide.
If you’re curious about lilikoi but don’t know where to start, here’s everything you need to know.
Lilikoi (pronounced lee-lee-coy) is the Hawaiian word for passionfruit, which can also be spelled as passion fruit (two words), and it is distinctive in every way. Brilliant multi-colored blossoms that grow on climbing vines transform into small, round fruits that are either yellow or purple in color.
When ripe, they become dimpled and soft, which might seem old or subpar to the untrained eye. Smooth, hard lilikoi aren’t ready for harvest and will be incredibly sour.
Inside the tough shell lies a sticky yellow goo, dotted with hard black seeds. The seeds are edible, but some people chose to strain them out as a textural preference. If eaten plain, you can scoop the insides out with a spoon like pudding. They’re especially refreshing chilled, straight out of the fridge.
The growing season is from July to December, but lilikoi puree can be found in some specialty markets year-round. This is the easiest way to use it in recipes since it takes many fresh lilikoi to produce enough pulp to cook or bake with. Considering the labor and expense, bottled or frozen seedless pulp is often a smart shortcut to take advantage of.
Although it’s a headlining component of classic POG juice, the blend of passion fruit juice, orange juice, and guava nectar doesn’t do proper justice to the fragrant and delicate flavor of fresh lilikoi.
Sweetness is secondary, with a tart, tangy, and floral taste that takes the lead. Riper fruits are sweeter, and purple lilikoi tend to be sweeter than yellow. Quality can vary greatly so don’t be discouraged if it’s not love at first taste.
How can you tell when a lilikoi is ripe? Liliko’i is not fully ripe until the hard outer skin becomes very wrinkly. It should look more like a gold ball—if it’s still smooth, wait! If you open a passion fruit too soon, it will be very tart, almost too sour to enjoy.
If you have a passion fruit that’s not ripe yet, simply leave it on the counter for several days and allow it to ripen.
You can also take note of the color. Passion fruit starts out green, and then turns yellow, pink, or purple as it matures. Yellow Liliko’i will remain bright yellow when fully ripe, and the purple lilikoi will take on a deeper color, such as dark purple, when very ripe. Green passion fruit are unripe and should be left on the vine, or if already picked, can be left on the counter for 3-7 days to ripen.
The beauty of lilikoi is its endless versatility. It’s just as compelling in savory dishes as it is in desserts. If you’re new to the world of passionfruit, here are a few easy ways to try it out:
Nothing at all! Lilikoi is simply the Hawaiian name while passion fruit is the English translation.
Yes, lilikoi is incredibly nutritious! It’s so full of vitamins and minerals that it’s considered a superfood by many. To reap the most benefits, seek out fresh or no-sugar-added options. Lilikoi is particularly high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, fiber, and is low in calories, which makes it a smart snack.
Lilikoi needs a tropical climate to thrive but has been known to do well in some parts of California and Florida in particular. If you have a controlled indoor environment like a greenhouse, you might have some luck, too. You can save the seeds inside fresh lilikoi, germinate them, and plant them in mineral rich soil. The vines do like to climb, so make sure you have a trellis or tomato cage nearby. For more advice, visit this in-depth lilikoi plant gardening tutorial.
Once ripened, store whole passion fruits in the fridge to keep them fresh for 1 to 2 weeks. Once cut open, passion fruit pulp can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for 2 to 3 days, or frozen for up to 6 months.
Lilikoi vary in size, but on average, each passionfruit will yield about 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons of pulp with seeds. For 1 cup of passionfruit pulp with seeds, you’ll need about 12 whole passionfruit.
If you’re ready to get into the kitchen and whip up something more creative with lilikoi, here are some decadent recipes to show case the unique tropical fruit:
This guide to lilikoi was written with support from Hannah Kaminsky and edited by Rachel Lessenden. Photos sourced from Canva.