A Weslaco scientist best known for his pioneering work in the production of orchids is conducting research into the possibility of commercially producing guava in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

With a keen eye for predicting consumer trends, Dr. Yin-Tung Wang, a horticulturist at the Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center, said he began the research five years ago when there was little interest in producing guava. But as ethnic groups in the United States continue to grow, so has the demand for guava.

Known as the poor man's fruit, or the apple of the tropics, guava is one of the most popular fruits of the tropical and subtropical climates of the world.

Consumption of this fruit is very high, providing consumers with the highest concentration of vitamin C of any fruit, and with beneficial levels of pectin, a natural compound proven to help prevent certain cancers in humans.

Unfortunately, guava's strong aroma, attributed to carbonyl compounds, makes the fruit unacceptable to most consumers in the United States. The guava tree's intolerance for the Valley's occasional cold snaps also makes production risky in South Texas.

But Wang has focused his efforts on a variety of guava bred in Thailand that produces fruit with a very mild flavor, a more acceptable level of aroma and a higher proportion of edible fruit. It also has a cold tolerance similar to or slightly higher than that of citrus trees that thrive in South Texas.

Today, 40 guava trees in a small orchard at the Weslaco Center are thriving, loaded with golf ball-size fruit that will be ready for harvest in September.

“This guava tastes much more like an American pear than the common guava, and the aroma is not near as strong,” Wang said. “I think this fruit will appeal to both the U.S. consumers not familiar with the fruit as well as to the many ethnic groups in the United States who already love guava.”

Production of guava in this country is very limited; on those rare occasions that guava is available as a fresh fruit, it can be very expensive. But where a market exists, Wang said, entrepreneurs are ready to invest.

“We had one gentleman from Dallas who flew here recently just to look into my guava research,” Wang said. “And as I do with all potential investors, I highly recommended that he thoroughly test the consumer market before investing in guava production.

“So, we may arrange for him to test-market our September guava harvest in Dallas and Houston where so many ethnic groups are concentrated.”

With the proper pruning and favorable climate, guava trees in some areas of the world can be induced to produce two harvests annually, one of many aspects of guava production in the Valley that Wang continues to investigate.

For more information, contact Dr. Wang in Weslaco at 956-968-5585, or send email to yt-wang@tamu.edu.