Gjelina Group Goes to the Market: Loquats
Loquats are an under-celebrated star of springtime, meant to go straight from the branch into your mouth.
By Sam Rogers and Grace Geller
One of the greatest fruits of springtime is hiding in plain sight. Loquat fruits, the oval little yellow love buds that you may have noticed all over town grow in a large evergreen shrub or tree. They are found in clusters of 5-10 pieces, with a smooth yellow or orange blushed skin.The loquat may be low-key but it is quite the traveler! The loquat is found around the world and called many different names, Chinese plum, Japanese medlar, Pipa, Nêspera and our favorite, out of Louisiana, “Misbelieves.” Loquat trees have been planted in California since the 1870s, mostly for the ornamental effect of its bold, tropical foliage. The loquat tree is unusual because after bee pollination, it flowers in the fall then bears fruit in the spring. Fresh loquats are sweet and delicate in flavor and easily peeled when ripe.
The loquat is part of the family Rosaceae (ruh-zay-see-ai) which is just what it sounds like, the rose family. The rose family includes thousands of flowering fruits and edible herbs, many of which present a clear family resemblance to the loquat. The flavor is flowery and agreeably tart, suggesting that of several other fruits of the same family, such as plums and cherries. You could say deliciousness runs in the family…
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Yellow to bronze in color, the fruits bear a tough skin and feature three or four large seeds embedded in juicy, whitish to orange-coloured flesh. The flesh texture of a loquat is smooth and firm, similar to an apricot, with a moderately thick skin reminiscent of a peach. The juicy loquat flavor starts slightly sour and tannic forward and mellows into a lightly sweet and delicate grape-like finish, a result of its high sugar content. Chef Juan is sure that the varieties he had as a kid in Oaxaca were much larger, and tasted much sweeter. We will take his word for it. When it comes to cooking and baking, loquats have not been the most popular springtime fruit, some can find their abundance of juice to be daunting. But we would like to change that! Loquats have a high acid and pectin content, which makes them a great candidate for jams, preserves and jellies. Fruits high in sugar, acid and pectin often require fewer additives than, for example, berries in order to create a thick, jammy texture. This means it is quite easy to create structurally sound jam or jelly, using very little added sugar! The meat of the loquat is not the only part of the plant deserving of attention. The loquat flower is celebrated for its sweet scent and is used in many perfumes. Historically, loquats play a part in traditions and celebrations around the world, including Day of the Dead Día de Muertos in Mexico and healing ceremonies across Asia (mainly China and Japan). The elliptic (think oval) shaped leaves are high in antioxidants and can be used to make a Japanese herbal tea called “Biwa Cha”.
Loquats oxidize quite quickly which means you are unlikely to find them in many grocery stores. (However, we are carrying them at Gjusta Grocer while supplies last. We keep them on the branch, which extends the shelf life). We are also currently featuring them at Gjelina in two dishes. We have pickled the loquat for the charcuterie plate and added fresh loquats to our fruit plate, our dish that features the fruit we think is particularly shining this season. Loquats are an under-celebrated star of springtime, meant to go straight from the branch into your mouth, often still a bit warm from sunshine. The flowers have a sweet, heady aroma that can be smelled from a distance. So next time you get a whiff while walking down the street, remember to sample one of these juice filled gems, a real gift while they last.