Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) are small, oblong tropical fruits that are widely enjoyed in China and Japan. The fruit is pronounced LOW-kwats and is also known as Japanese plum, Japanese medlar, or Nispero. The plant is a member of the rose family and is related to apples and pears. It is native to the subtropical regions of Southeastern China. From China it spread to Japan where it was cultivated for over a thousand years. The fruit then spread to India, Australia and New Zealand. Chinese immigrants introduced loquats to Hawaii and later to California, where they are grown in the small coastal region between San Diego and Santa Barbara. Japan is the largest producer of loquats in the world.
Loquat fruits grow on evergreen plants that range in size from small shrubs to large trees. These plants thrive in subtropical and mild climates and are intolerant of cold. They have large, dark green glossy leaves and are often grown as an ornamental plant. The plants produce small white flowers in the late fall or early spring, depending on the location. Clusters of loquat fruits develop over the course of 90 days. The fruits are allowed to fully ripen on the tree before harvesting because they will not ripen further once picked. Underripe fruits are harder and tend to be unpleasantly acidic. Asian loquats tend to be available year-round, while California loquats are harvested between March and June. The fruits must be cut and not pulled off to prevent tearing of the skin, which makes harvesting rather labor-intensive.
There are hundreds of varieties of loquats grown around the world. These can be roughly categorized into fruits with white or orange flesh. Loquats grow on the plant in clusters like dates and can vary in shape from oblong to round. They are only a couple inches long and have a brightly colored thin skin that can be yellow, orange, or red. The flesh is white, yellow, or orange and can be sweet to acidic depending on the climate and variety. Loquats contain a handful of large brown seeds that take up most of the space of the fruit.
Fresh loquats are not shipped outside their growing region because they are very susceptible to bruising. If you live in a region where they are produced you can find them in specialty produce sections and farmer’s markets. They may also be found in Asian markets. Look for soft but not mushy fruit with no bruises. Ripe fruit will keep in the fridge for several weeks. Also, peeled and seeded loquats can be found canned in many supermarkets outside of their growing region.
Loquats have a sweet floral flavor similar to apricots. Some varieties are said to taste like strawberries. They can be eaten fresh alone or in a fruit salad. The skin is edible, but avoid the seeds because they are toxic. They can also be used in baked desserts such as pies and tarts or used in savory dishes like stews and curries. The fruits have a high level of sugar and pectin, making them an excellent choice for jams and preserves. Loquats can also be fermented to make wine. If loquats are not available you can substitute quince, mango, plum, pear, or tart apples.