What exactly is a loquat? While cultured fruit lovers know it very well, many shoppers used to perusing the larger chains won’t often find it available, and even if they did, may not be willing to give it a shot due to unfamiliarity. However, anyone looking for a diabolically delicious ingredient to throw into a fruit salad would be benefited greatly by just giving it a shot. A distant relative of the apple, the loquat is a tree fruit similar in sugar and pectin content, but with a slightly higher acidity. The tree itself thrives in a sub-tropic, mild climate, and is used primarily as an ornamental tree. Right now, Japan is the chief exporter of loquats, followed by Israel and Brazil.
Loquat Culture and History
Sometimes referred to as a Japanese plum, the loquat was first documented as originating from China, where it was later introduced to Japan. From there, the tree was widely distributed in Europe, and it arrived in the United States in the mid-1800s, where it has officially become naturalized in the southern states of America. The tree itself can grow up to 35 feet, but quickly self-prunes upon yielding large amounts of fruit. The make-up of the fruit is similar to that of a peach, with fuzz on the skin, as well as large seeds inside that are, like most fruit seeds, slightly poisonous upon consumption. Oddly, dogs enjoy eating the fruit.
Health Benefits of Loquats
Although there haven’t been a whole lot of tests exploring the nutritional benefits of loquats, a chemical analysis shows the fruit to contain high levels of vitamin A and minerals such as calcium and potassium. The syrup of a loquat is used in making Chinese cough drops, and the fruit is said to cease vomiting as well. One possibly unintended side effect of eating loquats in mass quantities is nap time – the fruit has a gentle but noticeable sedative effect that can last up to 24 hours.
The fruit is also rich with insoluble dietary fiber and pectin, which retains moisture in the colon and functions as a bulk laxative. Pectin helps to decrease the colon’s exposure time to toxic substances, and binds cancer-causing chemicals, rendering them ineffective. Aside from a bevy of antioxidants and acids found in the fruit, loquat also is a good source of copper, manganese, and iron, which can be most beneficial to vegans and vegetarians with a lack of red meat in their diets.
Eating more Loquats
So you’ve found some loquats and want more than just a fruit salad – what to do? Desserts can be made from slightly immature loquats, and are best baked into a pie or fruit tart. Loquats are also used to make jam, jelly, and chutney, and can be served poached in light syrup. Adventurous types can also try their hand at making a loquat wine using just crystal sugar and white liquor. Others appreciate the taste of a loquat sake, made from the seed of the fruit, which smells similar to apricot.
There are also some rather interesting dishes that can be made with loquat, including in rice pudding with coconut milk or as a salsa. It can also be very quickly and simply made into a butter that can be spread over biscuits or toast, and will have a taste similar to apricots. It can also accompany seafood dishes for less-strict vegetarians, and goes well with ginger. Who has heard of or eaten this relatively rarely-known fruit? What successes have you had, and what can be said about the taste and texture to get more people to try it out?