Guava, its friends say, when ripe, smells just like a dream of the tropics: sweet, fruity, distinctive. Beware of underripe guavas, however--they remind sniffers of the musky smell of zoos or locker rooms.
The flavor of ripe guavas is as endearing as their scent. The fruit's slightly grainy flesh, which ranges in color from white to hot pink, calls up allusions to strawberries and bananas.
Brought Home by Columbus
Native to South America, Central America and the West Indies, guavas were first brought to a European audience by Columbus's crew. And, indeed, in the United States they are best known in Latin American cooking.
However, they are also found in other tropical or subtropical corners of the globe, including India, South Africa and Greece, where the seed-filled fruit has been spread by migrating birds.
Most commercially grown guavas that are consumed in the United States come from Australia and New Zealand, or they are grown domestically in California and Florida (Delicious guavas are abundant in Hawaii, but because they are subject to fruit-fly infestation, cannot be shipped to the mainland). Guavas are best known in the United States in nectar or paste (goyabada) form, and are also made into a candy that is popular in Mexico. All of these can be found at groceries that carry Latin American foodstuffs. But the fruit can occasionally be found fresh, too, at markets that carry gourmet produce.
The fruits are pear-shaped or ovoid. Select fresh-looking specimens, slightly tender to the touch, and allow them to ripen unrefrigerated. A deep yellow color and that lovely aroma will be the guide to ripeness. When they have ripened fully, guavas can be refrigerated, but they should be used soon, or the flesh may become unpleasantly sandy.
Fresh guavas can be eaten raw when very ripe. (A number of small hard seeds are clustered near the heart of the fruit. The seeds, while edible, can be obtrusive.) For eating out of hand, wash and trim away the stem and blossom ends, then halve and scoop out of the shell. Firmer fruit can be used for jams and jellies, sliced in a fruit salad and the pulp pureed for sauces, sorbets or mousse. Guava also makes a fine liqueur.
The nutritional reward will be plenty of Vitamin A (especially in the pinkest varieties) and more Vitamin C than citrus fruits. Guavas are also low in calories.