The Lowdown on Loquats
3.22.17 – As winter becomes spring in Southern California (and it starts to feel like summer), there are so many fruitastic crops available to harvest and enjoy, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention an often-overlooked gem – the loquat!
Loquat – by Charles Woo
Loquat trees with leaves as ears of donkey grow in the hill.
Their fragrant flowers are as white as snow in a chill.
In different season, they change their appearance.
During summer, their golden fruit is my preference.
What’s a loquat (and why does it inspire poetry)?
The loquat is a stone fruit that is described as a cross between a mango and an apricot. Some varieties are sweet and some are a bit sour. You’ll probably see loquat trees in backyards around the city because they require little maintenance and like the Southern California climate. However, you won’t find them at the grocery store as there isn’t much of a commercial market for them in the US.
Background and History
Also known as the Japanese plum or Japanese medlar, the loquat is native to China and is part of the rose family (Rosaceae). The fruits are golden orange and ripen in clusters during the spring. The seeds, like the apple seed, contain cyanide and when eaten in large quantities are toxic, so stick to the fruit! The tree matures to about 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Most of the tree is covered in soft fuzzy hairs, including the branches, stems, and fruit.
The first documentation of the loquat tree was in 1100AD in China. By the mid 1800’s, the fruit tree came to the United States by way of Chinese immigration to Hawaii. Today, commercial production is limited to the coastal areas between Santa Barbara and San Diego. It is more common as a backyard crop rather than a commercial crop because the fruit bruises easily and is susceptible to changes in the weather.
Types and Characteristics
There are 800 varieties of Loquats, but only 8 varieties are grown in California. Of these 8 varieties, there are two main types: Chinese and Japanese. The Chinese loquats have thin leaves, pea shaped fruit, dark orange flesh, and small, numerous seeds. The Japanese loquats have broad leaves, long and oval fruit, pale yellow skin, and a few large seeds.
In California, the fruit begins to ripen in April through May. Loquats reach maturity in 90 days. The fruit is ready to pick when it turns a golden color, or when the birds begin to peck at it. Fruit clusters are cut from the branches with clippers. Then, the fruits must be handpicked to avoid tearing the skin. Loquats travel poorly (they’re quite sensitive) so they must be handled with care.
To eat a loquat, remove the stem, tear the fruit in half and remove the seeds. Remove the interior pithy membrane and the calyx. Most people prefer removing the skin because it is sometimes leathery and becomes tough when cooked. Loquats are best eaten at room temperature and can keep for a week if stored in cool temperatures.
by Erika Kerekes
- 20 large or 30 small ripe loquats
- 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
- 4 stalks green onion, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (1 large lime)
- 1/8 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- Wash the loquats well. Break one loquat in half by sticking your thumbs down into the middle from the stem end and pulling apart. Use your thumb to scoop out the seeds and pinch off the flower end. Peel the skin from the flesh – it should come away easily. Place the flesh on a cutting board and repeat with the rest of the loquats. Chop the loquat flesh with a large knife and put it in a bowl. Be forewarned: Preparing loquats is a labor of love. It’s not quick.
- Add the red and green onions, lime juice, salt and cilantro, and mix well. Let sit 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.