Real Food Encyclopedia | Loquat
Loquat fruits, which grow on an evergreen shrub-like tree, are related to the apple, pear and quince. They are indigenous to China, where they are known as pipa, and hugely popular in Japan, where they are known as biwa. In the US, you might see them called “Japanese plums” or “Japanese pears.” There are over 900 varieties, with flesh ranging in color from white to yellow to orange, some seedless and some with very large seeds. They look like apricots, in terms of color, size (just an inch or two around) and downy skin. Like other harder-to-find fruits, their taste is often described as a combination of other more familiar tastes; in this case, maybe apricot, cherry, pear. But you’re best off trying one for yourself; they taste like … loquats!
After flowering in the late fall, the fruit is ready to eat in late winter/early spring (depending on exact location), making them an exciting first sign of spring, and of more fruit to come.
Fun Facts about Loquat:
- Loquat trees are often grown as ornamentals for their lovely, sweet-smelling flowers, with the fruit being an added bonus (though, if grown too far North, they won’t fruit at all).
- Loquat fruits grow in clusters and are best harvested one cluster at a time.
What to Look for When Buying Loquat
When shopping for loquats, look for fruits that are slightly tender and give off a sweet smell. If they’re green, they are definitely not ripe yet, but even if they have turned color they might still have some time until they’re ripe and fully sweet.
Loquats are delightfully sweet and juicy but they don’t have a long shelf life and they bruise very easily. This is a great reason to grab them if you see them grown locally since they will be their very best fresh off the tree. Don’t be turned off by some slight bruising; they will still be delicious.
The skin of loquats is edible but isn’t where the flavor lies, so feel free to remove it before enjoying the tasty fruit.
Sustainability of Loquat
Loquat trees are very hardy and easy to take care of. They don’t require a lot of water or upkeep. They are susceptible to pest infestation but chemical-free measures, like netting or plastic bagging the fruit clusters, is quite prevalent and can be very effective. When shopping for loquats, choose organic options to avoid exposure to potentially toxic agricultural applications.
Loquat trees produce ripe fruit as early as January (in Hawai’i) and late April/early May throughout the mainland Southern United States.
Japan is the largest producer of loquats in the world, with Israel supplying the second-largest supply. Many of the imported loquats we see in the US are from Spain. In the US, they’re only grown on a small commercial scale in Florida, Southern California and Hawai’i, but they flourish in backyards and sidewalks throughout the South, making them ideal foraged fruits.
Loquats won’t last long on your countertop but they do well in the refrigerator. Once they have been refrigerated and brought out, they should be eaten right away.
The ripe fruit can be pureed and frozen as a pulp that will keep for several months in the freezer.
Top photo by Garmon/Adobe Stock.