A guava is the sweet fruit of the guava tree, which grows in tropical regions of America and Asia. The genus consists of about 100 small trees and shrubs, with the Psidium guajava species being the most cultivated for food. The fruit can be eaten raw or used to flavor drinks, desserts, and sauces.
The guava is believed to have originated in an area extending from southern Mexico into Central America. Since 1526, it has been common throughout all warm areas of tropical America, the West Indies, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. It was introduced to Florida in 1847 and was brought from there to the East Indies and Guam. It is likely that it spread from those regions to Asia and Africa. It was introduced to Hawaii in the early 19th century and is now common throughout the Pacific islands.
The plant is evergreen, in the form of either shallow-rooted shrubs or trees up to 33 feet (10.05 meters) in height. The tree has a smooth copper-colored bark that flakes off to reveal a green layer underneath and has branches that spread at the top of the tree. The leaves are green and leathery. In addition to fruit, the tree also bears fragrant white flowers with four or five petals.
Guava trees need warm climates. They do best in areas with full sun that receive no frost. They are often grown using vegetative propagation or from root cuttings. These plants are relatively indiscriminate regarding soil, and in general adapt easily. Unlike most tropical fruits, they can be grown to fruiting size in pots indoors.
The fruit may be round, ovoid, or pear shaped and is 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) in diameter. Its thin skin is bright yellow in color, sometimes tinged with red. The flesh is white or orange-pink depending on the variety, and contains many small, hard seeds. The guava is characterized by a strong, sweet odor. Many varieties are grown for their fruit, including the Psidium cattleianum (strawberry guava), Psidium guajava (apple guava), and Psidium friedrichstahlium, the Costa Rica guava.
The guava is rich in vitamins A, B, and C, as well as beta carotene. It can be eaten raw, either out-of-hand or seeded and sliced in desserts or salads, although cooking eliminates the strong smell. The fruit is widely canned and sold for export, as is juice, nectar, and shells, which are stewed and served as a desert in Latin America and Spanish-speaking islands of the West Indies. There are countless recipes for the use of guava in pies, cakes, puddings, jellies, and chutneys, and the fruit may even be dehydrated and powdered to flavor ice cream.