Loquat season is here!

loquat tree

photo courtesy of wikimedia

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) season is upon us here in our neighborhood of HaFoSaFo (that is, one special corner of Los Angeles).

This post will not have much relevance to those of you who do not live in a subtropical or mild climate, but for those of you who do, I highly encourage you to get to know the humble yet mysterious loquat.

Loquat trees abound in our neighborhood, and I don’t know if this is a purely local phenomenon or not. Loquats are hardy evergreen trees with thick, glossy leaves that remind me of citrus leaves and magnolia leaves and avocado leaves all at the same time, meaning it’s vaguely tropical looking.

They don’t seem to require much water or pruning–so they do well under benign neglect, though I’d suspect the fruit is best on trees which are not completely ignored.  This is the time of year when the fruit comes ripe, and it’s always kind of an exciting time because the loquats bridge the “fruit gap” between winter citrus and stone fruit.

The thing about loquats is that they are really suited only for fresh eating. And I mean fresh off the tree–they don’t keep long after they’ve been picked, which is why they never appear in stores. We’ve tried to figure out things to do with them, but they defy preservation because they are made mostly of water. They are also small, have skins which are impossible to peel (you just eat the skins), and large pits, all of which makes processing difficult. Yet they can be really tasty. The best ones taste a little like citrus honey and have a nice floral fragrance. Their light, watery flesh is refreshing on a hot day

(If anyone has figured out something to do with loquats other than eat them out of hand, please do let us know! The best we’ve been able to do is to infuse them in vodka, and that was not all that thrilling in the end.)

They are highly prolific, too. So right now all of the loquat trees in the ‘hood are studded with hundreds upon hundreds (thousands, maybe?) of little yellow-orange fruits. These fruits seem to be nuisances to most homeowners–I rarely see a tree which looks as if it’s being harvested, or if it is, the harvesting does not make a dent in the bounty. After all, how many fresh loquats can you gobble down in a day? All of which is to say I feel no guilt about snagging loquats off of accessible trees as I walk around.* On-the-hoof snacking is one of the pleasures of walking at this time of year!
Ripe loquats tend to be a little larger and fatter than the unripe ones, and the color is darker. They also have a tiny bit of give under the fingers. You’ll get a sense of how to tell which ones are best with experience. I usually rub the fuzz off the skin before eating, which, in my book, counts as washing. Beware the pits! Some trees have better fruit than others, so if you try a loquat and find it less than thrilling, try fruit from another tree. You may find a new favorite seasonal treat.
ETA:  Days after posting, I just got around to reading the Wikpedia entry on loquat. (ahem) Turns out there are over 800 cultivars of loquat, some of which are bred for smaller seeds and sweeter fruit, others which are bred for white or orange flesh, others which are bred for backyard production, meaning they fruit in waves, a bit at a time, while others are bred for commercial production, meaning their fruit appears and ripens all at once.  Some trees are meant to be ornamental. Methinks some of the trees in our neighborhood are commercial producers, and others downright feral. All of this is to say that there is going to be a huge variation in the loquat experience from place to place–which is reflected in the comments below.
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*Re: fruit foraging: I consider it fair/legal to snag fruit from street trees, those trees growing on the strip of public land between the street and the sidewalk, and fruit which overhangs the sidewalk. Now, of course, you don’t want to be a jerk about this–I pay attention to context, and won’t take fruit that people seem to be using, or which seems precious in any way. (Loquats I classify as a weed/borderline nuisance.) It’s never okay to step onto someone’s land to take fruit.

Also, I would never take vegetables from any part of a yard, public or not. That’s just different. To take a random example, I would never, say, help myself to someone’s giant squash.

And it’s important not to be greedy. I don’t take more than one fruit from a tree at a time (or maybe two or three, in the case of loquats). But if the tree is burdened with fruit and rotten fruit is splattering on the sidewalk, it seems more a favor than anything else to take one or two.

Of course, it is always best to ask the homeowner for permission. In the case of loquats, we’ve done this in order to harvest them in quantity for our preservation experiments. Homeowners are usually happy to share, even let you onto their land, to make use of their fruit. It turns out most folks just don’t know what to do with the bounty of fruit trees, or just don’t have the time/equipment/mobility to deal with harvest. In return, if you get permission to take lots of fruit, you can return some to them in the form of preserves or whatnot. This keeps the good will flowing.

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51 Comments

  1. We live in SW FL and our loquat season ended about a month ago. We had been picking from trees behind us that are part of an apartment complex landscaping. The only people besides us that we’ve seen harvest the fruit are the mowers.
    We bought an 8″ loquat 4 years ago and this season it produced fruit. It is about 8′x8′ and we’ll try to keep it that size for ease in picking fruit.
    We eat them fresh but my husband chops them up and stirs into yoghurt, adds to strawberries for a fruit salad and has even pureed them into a smoothie. I’m diabetic and can eat 100grams of the fruit, minus the ends and seeds, without upsetting my blood sugars – 100grams isn’t very much, about 10 fruit.
    So, since we can’t go thru all the ripe fruit and I’m too frugal to waste I freeze them in 100g portions. Wash, remove both ends, make a cut from one end to the other, split open, remove seeds. I also remove blemishes. Put in a zipper bag and freeze. To eat I defrost till just a touch of ice is left and eat like I would fresh and drink the juice that has formed. As soon as peach season is over, in about a month, I’ll start in on the loquats.

  2. I got a jar full last year and brandied them–pitted them and just packed them in sugar and left them alone until they made a mildly alcoholic syrup. They were excellent on ice cream as a replacement for the reviled maraschino “cherry”, but moreover according to Chinese herbal medicine loquats have benefits against coughs, so the fruit and syrup made an excellent and tasty cough remedy. I’ll do it again if I can get enough… most loquat trees in Oakland don’t produce as heavily as the one I grew up with in the south.

  3. This will sound insane, because it is ALOT of work (first slice in two, pit, dig the seed skin out , then peel off outside skin….over and over and over) but we make jam out of ours…infused with seeds from cardamom….liquid gold that is soooo tasty.

    • It is a lot of work–that’s why we’re too lazy to do much with them. BUT I have found that labor is rewarded. Your jam sounds amazing!

    • Maybe try just seeding and then puree with a blender before mixing in the sugar? Or cooking with the sugar just roughly chopped and never mind peeling if the skins are so thin?

    • We made a jam or a butter or something and left the skins in. They were surprisingly unpleasant, as I recall, despite being so thin.

  4. You’re steeping the wrong part in vodka – try the pits! They make the best *almond* liquor. In fact, if you remove a pile of pits and let them dry you can smell the almond component. Or at least I can. I value the pits as much as the fruit for this reason. We also freeze the fruit for smoothies and it is one of the first layers of my rumtopf, along with blueberries. I think we have a seedling tree in our yard, but the fruit is still good and actually peels easily. I have a pile of fruits on the counter right now waiting to be processed. We love them and agree that they are underappreciated and underutilized.

    • Interesting. I always thought the cyanide in the pits was a problem, but after reading this they also have a lot of b17. What are your thoughts on the cyanide levels? I love the fruit. Seems this year won’t be a good one in Austin. We’re back in desperate drought mode.

    • According to Wikipedia is no risk of Cyanide poisoning
      “Alcoholic beverages[edit]
      Loquats can also be used to make light wine. It is fermented into a fruit wine, sometimes using just the crystal sugar and white liquor. Lemon or lemon zest is often paired with the wine because the fruit has very low acidity.
      In Italy nespolino[18] liquer is made from the seeds, reminiscent of nocino and amaretto, both prepared from nuts and apricot kernels. Both the loquat seeds and the apricot kernels contain cyanogenic glycosides, but the drinks are prepared from varieties that contain only small quantities (such as Mogi and Tanaka[19]), so there is no risk of cyanide poisoning.”

    • Yeah, I wish there was more information out there. Seems like there are a lot of great potentials for the pit, but I am still worried myself.

    • RE cyanide levels. There is zero risk in this, amygdalin is different than the cyanide we are familiar with. Big Pharma does not want us consuming amygdalin due to it’s healing properties thus you have a disinformation campaign on the internet to move the masses away from its consumption and onto eating Monsanto, etc.

    • @Jeff: Yes–I just found that, too. Was surprised to know that there are over 800 cultivars. I suspect that the loquats in our neighborhood are largely feral or seed grown, so I don’t know if I’m confident enough to risk the seeds. Then again, Donna is alive! ;)

    • Yes, I fretted over the is-it-toxic question for a while too, couldn’t find definitive info, and tried it anyway. We only drink it in small quantities at a time and haven’t keeled over yet. Of course, it could happen any minute now…

      One question I had was whether to use the pits fresh or dried – again, I found directions for both ways. So this year I’m doing a controlled comparison. I dried some pits ( in my massive solar dehydrator like the one at the Root Simple compound) and removed the dark skin. I’m doing an equal number of pits in an equal volume of vodka for an equal amount of time and will see if there’s a difference. All in the name of science, don’t you know.

    • Thanks Jeff – great article. I can’t find the level of cyanide in loquats relative to other plants, but I’ll keep looking.
      I think what might be keeping me alive is: a long steeping time (4-6 months), a long blending time with simple syrup (another 6 months), dilution with the simple syrup (at least 1 to 1), infrequent imbibing, and of course the alcohol :-).

    • Donna, I agree doing all those things should make it safe.
      I think maybe wine improves with the age because the toxins break down over time.

  5. I grew up in So. Cal…. I remember as a kid eating those little golden delights off the neighbor’s trees…. THey thought I was crazy, but they have a great flavor… I also remember people using guava has ornamentals and I would eat those green guavas. None of which grow on the Oregon Coast where I now live… Great Post! Brought back some really nice memories.

    • You’re welcome. There is something so sweet about childhood foraging memories, isn’t there? I remember eating sour little grapes on my way to school. They seemed like magic.

  6. We had loquats at our old house. The tree was big so they were mostly too high to pick in quantity. I did make jam successfully one year. I don’t remember it being particularly labor intensive, so I think I must not have peeled them. Or maybe I did peel them and it just didn’t seem like much work because I was comparing it to the kumquat marmalade I’d made that winter.

    They’re also really good grilled. I think ours may not have been as sweet as they could have been (since they were in a corner I basically never watered) so the grilling brings out a little more of that sweetness.

  7. I’ve made jam with them…add a little lemon juice and some lemon zest and it was tasty. I consider them the poor man’s apricot.

  8. I’ll follow up on Kerrick’s mention of Chinese medicine – having been an end user numerous times :-)

    The medicine I’ve imbibed seems to be either a really condensed syrup mixed with honey or it’s a honey infusion, though that seems less likely because of the high water content of the fruit which would be conducive to spoiling -as a medicine it’s incredibly soothing for a cough and sore throat…

    a quick search for recipes turned up nada (romanization of the Chinese name is pibagao, piba being the loquat fruit) – but I don’t read Chinese so I’m sure I’m missing something.

    • Loquat syrup is made with the leaves, which in chinese medicine (traditionally) are first fried in honey before using them to make the syrup. I’ve boiled the leaves, and the water turns a beautiful apricot color. Try looking under “Pi Pa Ye” for more info on the TCM uses.

  9. I harvest about 300 lbs of loquats a year from my tree and I make all kinds of things. You must have a different strain, because my peels strip right off without any blanching necessary. A list of all the things I have made:

    dried loquats (awesome!)
    jam
    jelly
    butter
    syrup
    bread
    kuchen
    cobbler
    leather
    vinaigrette
    ketchup
    brandy

    I am in full on harvest and process mode right now!

  10. I like them dried also. We load up the dehydrator, and snack on them for weeks.
    In Central Florida, the tree is used as an ornamental. I sometimes head to the golf course with a ladder to pick from the tallest trees.

  11. I had never heard of them until I moved to South Georgia; there I met 2 30-foot giants with arms that bowed to the ground. I used them in a loquat-upside down cake.

    I remember a lot of recipes for loquat wine when I was researching what to do with them, but haven’t tried that myself.

  12. We live in Houston, and there are loquat trees everywhere! We planted one in our front yard. Several years ago I had a windfall from neighbors and made loquat jam, which was really wonderful…but a whole lot of work due to processing. While they are very easy to peel the seeds are large and we processed about 7 full plastic grocery bags which yielded almost a dozen pints. I think they make really excellent jam, but haven’t done it since due to lack of volume.

  13. I started some loquat trees about 10 years ago, with seeds from my parents’ loquat trees. They started producing fruit about 3 years ago. I steam them until they are soft and put them through the attachment for my mixer that I also use for applesauce. I make jam with the pulp. It has a wonderful, sort of tropical flavor. Visiting family members expect to take home a jar:) On return visits, they bring back an empty jar, and hope that I still have some left.

  14. I think I will see how far south I must move to be able to grow loquats. I think down around Montgomery, AL, about 100 miles south might work. These certainly seem to be a prolific and versatile fruit. I was thinking brandy and sugar to make brandied fruit, dehydrating, pies, and jam. As you write about street fruit, I wonder why this 112-year-old neighborhood has none. Well, it might be older than that.

  15. I second loquat wine. My wife and I live in Northwest Los Angeles and loquat season is over here. We harvested all the fruit we could in one sitting 3 weeks ago and then pitted and juiced it. We then fermented the juice with a little honey to bring up the alcohol content. The results are a very pleasant mild white wine that you can drink young.

  16. A friend of mine used to make delicious jam. He did not remove the skins, but did get rid of the pits, so less work than one of the comments, but not completely easy.

  17. On the Chinese cough medicine usage, one popular brand is:
    Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa Traditional Chinese Herbal Coughs Syrup Loquat & honey
    pictured here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/271476544844?lpid=82

    Its also used in soups (loquat is supposed to fortify lungs functions) although we use the dried form (maybe because of its availability?) Anyway, google “Chinese loquat soup” for recipes. LMK if you try it.

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