Lovin’ Loquats: Eriobotryae Japonicae
Long before there were couch potatoes there were couch Loquats.
Loquats are homebodies. Most people who live beyond the growing range of the Loquat usually have never eaten a fresh one, having to settle for canned representatives. Loquats just don’t travel well. They bruise easily and loose their freshness quickly, much like a rose, its distant relative. From the tree to the kitchen is almost the maximum distance they will endure. Tree to tummy is the best. The state of Florida says they will keep several weeks in the refrigerator, but my experience is by then they look like large, lumpy raisins.
Although called the Japanese Plum, the Loquat is not native to Japan nor is it a plum. It’s extremely popular in Japan and has been cultivated there for at least 1,000 years. Despite the name, the Loquat is actually from southern China, where in Cantonese it is called Luh Kwat (hence Loquat.) Translated that means “reed orange” or “rush orange” or in other words it likes to grow where it is wet. That seems more poetic than true because here in Florida they grow where ever a bird drops the seed, wet or dry, hence they have become naturalized. If you have a Loquat tree, you will have dozens of Loquatlings. By the way, at least four different species of fruit-eating bats also do their best to spread and fertilize Loquat seeds.
In Mandarin Loquat is called “Pipa” because its shape resembles a musical instrument, the Pipa, which is pot-bellied like lute. In Japan the same mind set held sway and Loquat is called Biwa, after the musical instrument of the same shape. Pipa/biwa, too close for pentatonic or verbal chance.
The Loquat fruit is more like an apricot than a plum. It’s one of those inexplicable linguisticism that in English we refer to Japan’s apricot-like fruit as a “plum” but their plum –ume—we call a Japanese apricot, which it is not. That does not make a lot of sense. It makes you wonder if a couple of pages of an early botany book book were transposed. Incidentally, the kumquat and the Loquat are not related botanically, but both share an origin in old Chinese names. Kumquat means “golden orange.”
The Loquat tree is unusual in that it blossoms in the fall or early winter, and fruits in early winter or spring. Its blossoms were used to make perfumes in the 1950s. The quality of the perfume was said to be outstanding, but the yield was low and not commercially viable. Some individuals suffer headache when too close to a Loquat tree in bloom, the aroma from the flowers sweet and penetrating.
My Loquat tree blossoms around Christmas and I have edible fruit by St. Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day. It varies. Loquats were introduced to Florida in 1867 and the tree fruits as far north as South Carolina. The wood is pink, hard, close-grained, and medium-heavy. It is good for making rulers and bokkens. Bokkens? In Japanese martial arts the practice sword — the bokken — was often made of Loquat wood because it was hard but also brittle, perhaps a realistic substitute for swords which then could be brittle. Legend says a wound caused by a Loquat bokken will not heal and the victim will die. There is no report of what happen to wounds caused by a Loquat ruler in the hands of an old-fashion teacher, of which I had several.
I planted my Loquat tree some 15 years ago and it has been fruiting heavily for seven years. Following the suggestion of local experts, the tree is pruned to resemble a bowl, which increases production, up to 300 pounds of fruit a season. The sweet/tart yellow pear-shaped fruit is a sign of winter, eh, or spring, depending upon which cultivar you have. Many recipes are included below, or just use apricot recipes. Botanically in the same family with apples, pears, peaches, nectarines et cetera, the Loquat‘s scientific name is Eriobotryae japonica (air-ee-oh-BOT-ree-uh juh-PAWN-ih-kuh). Japonica means Japan and Eriobotryae is bastardized Greek — read Latinized Greek — meaning “woolly bunch of grapes.” Loquats grow on thick fuzzy stems in a cluster like grapes. There is no controversy that the fruit is tasty. The slippery seeds, however, are another issue.
Like many pome members of the rose family, the seeds contain small amounts of cyanogenetic glycosides. That’s almost as bad as it sounds. Said another way, in the gut this can make minute amounts of cyanide that the body can tolerate. This is also known as amygdalin or laetrile, also called B17, a controversial alternative medicine treatment for cancer, usually obtained from apricot pips. This would all be an almost dismissible interesting factoid if all we did was spit the seeds out, or occasionally let an ingested whole seed go on its merry alimentary way. But, then there is flavoring with the seeds, roasting the seeds, and lastly, Loquat grappa, which is made from the seeds. I should say, Loquat grappa is homemade. I know of no commercial Loquat grappa. There are some Loquat-flavored liquors but they have a different taste profile completely. They taste like Loquats. Loquat grappa does not taste like Loquats.
Loquat grappa is made by soaking Loquat seeds in vodka or grain alcohol for one to six months and then adding sugar water to the infusion. The longer you let it sit, the darker and stronger flavored it becomes. The odd part is Loquat grappa made this way has a very strong cherry flavor and aroma. Is Loquat grappa poisonous? That is a good question. Certain Indian tribes would leech cyanic glycosides out of seeds of related plants then eat the ground up seeds. If the glycosides can been leached out by water, then one would think vodka, which is half water, would leech it from the seeds to the vodka, and alcohol is a good solvent. Then again, it might not be chemically possible. If the toxin is an oil — an acid — it might not mix with water or alcohol. Perhaps a chemist will let us know. I can volunteer some Loquat grappa for science. So while some toxicity would make sense in some amount, it is an unknown. I’ve never seen more than four ounces drank at a time. It seems to be tolerated at that level, producing only expected effects. I make two “fifths” a year of it and it lasts until the next season. If you follow either of the Loquat grappa recipes included below and make your own, you’re on your own: No guarantees or promises of safety included. Consume sparingly. Oh, adding a section of cinnamon bark to the final grappa bottle adds some very nice flavor.
That said, the non-bitter roasted seeds are reported to be tasty — I’m not sure I would eat one but there are people who do, apparently — and some folks put a few seeds in the cavity of a chicken before roasting to impart a nice flavor. The roasted seeds when ground are said to be a good substitute for coffee. (I think I’ll pass on that, for two reasons: One is the debatable safety of the seeds. The other is every seed coffee extender or substitute I’ve ever had is awful, including the queen of substitutes, roasted ground persimmon seeds. )
Besides amygdalin, the seeds also have lipids, sterol, b-sitosterol, triglycerides, sterolester, diglycerides and compound lipids; and fatty acids, mainly linoleic, palmitic, linolenic and oleic. Amygdalin is also in the fruit peel, but slightly. The leaves possess a mixture of triterpenes, also tannin, in addition, there are traces of arsenic. (Arsenic And Old Loquat?) Young leaves contain saponin. The leaves and seeds are also used in Chinese medicine, as is the fruit, which has vitamins A, B, and C. The Loquat is still one of the most popular cough remedies in the Orient, and is the ingredient of many patent medicines.
One other warning: Do not eat a green, uncooked Loquats. They taste awful and there is one case on record of several stupefying a five-year old for two hours. Loquat pie made with greenish, not-quite-ripe fruit, however, supposedly taste like cherry pie….
Soak one to two quarts of clean, whole Loquat seeds in a tight jar with a quart of vodka for one to six months. At the end of soaking time, drain the now flavored vodka and split it evenly between two fifth bottles. On the stove create sugar water by mixing equal parts of sugar and water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Top off each fifth with the sugar water. If you want it less sweet use less sugar, or more vodka.
4 lbs fresh loquats
2 lbs granulated sugar
1 tsp acid blend
1 gallon water
1 crushed Campden tablet
1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
1/2 tsp grape tannin
wine yeast and nutrient
Wash fruit and remove seeds. Chop the fruit finely or roughly in a blender. Pour fruit over half the sugar, crushed Campden tablet, tannin, yeast nutrient, and enough water to total one gallon in primary, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Cover with cloth. After 12 hours, add pectic enzyme and recover. After another 12 hours, add wine yeast and recover. Stir daily, adding half the remaining sugar after three days. Ferment on pulp another four days, stirring daily. Strain through nylon jelly bag and squeeze well to extract juice. Pour remaining sugar into juice, juice into secondary, and fit airlock. Siphon liquor off sediments into clean secondary after 30 days, topping up as needed. Repeat racking every 30 days until wine clears (3-4 additional rackings). Rack once more and taste. If satisfied with sweetness, bottle the wine. If too dry, add stabilizer and sweeten to taste, adding up to 1/4 cup sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup water. Age
Here is a second Loquat grappa recipe from the internet.
Dry 200g of Loquat seeds in sun for a week. Put in a bottle with 400g spirit grain alcohol, a piece of lemon rind and a piece of vanilla bean. Keep covered in sun for 1 month, shaking it occasionally. Prepare syrup of 300g sugar and 300g water. Boil, then when cool mix with spirit, filter and bottle. Keep to season at least two months before drinking.
And, Loquat Jam
1 kg loquats, seeds removed but fruit not peeled
200 ml water
Finely grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
Simmer fruit in water till soft. mash well or put it through the blender. add juice and rind and sugar; boil rapidly till a little sets on a cold saucer. Bottle and seal.
More Loquat Jam
Wash, remove seeds, and blossom ends from whole ripe fruit. Run through food chopper and measure pulp. Barely cover with cold water. Cook until tender and deep red. Add 3/4 cup sugar to 1 cup of Loquat pulp. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids. It is best to cook small batches of no more than 5 cups of fruit pulp in one kettle.
5 lbs. ripe loquats
1 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice 1 package pectin
5-1/2 cups sugar
Gather Loquats when full size. Wash, remove seeds, and blossom ends. Barely cover with cold water. Simmer covered for 15 minutes Cook slowly until pulp is very soft. Strain juice through jelly bag. Measure 3-1/2 cups Loquat juice and lemon juice in a large kettle. if more juice is needed, fill last cup or fraction of a cup with water. Add pectin. Stir well. Place over high heat and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar and mix well. Continue stirring and bring to full rolling boil. Boil exactly 2 minutes. Remove from fire and let boiling subside. Skim carefully. Pour into hot sterilized jelly glasses, leaving 1/2-inch space at top to cover at once with melted paraffin. (Or pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids.)
No Added Pectin
Gather Loquats when full size. Wash, remove seeds, and blossom ends. Barely cover with cold water. Cook slowly until pulp is very soft. Strain through jelly bag. Drain and cook until juice is thick then add an equal amount of sugar. Boil rapidly to jelly stage. Pour into sterilized jelly glasses, leaving 1/2-inch space at top to cover at once with melted paraffin. (Or pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids.)
For three pints of sweet pickles, wash three pounds of firm loquats and remove the stem and blossom ends; do not peel them. Drop them into the pickling syrup given below and cook until tender. Remove the fruit. Pour remaining syrup into sterilized jars. Fill almost to overflowing with the hot syrup and seal at once.
3 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole allspice
2-inch stick of cinnamon
Combine sugar, water, and vinegar in a large kettle. Tie the spices loosely in cheesecloth and add. Boil 10 minutes. Put in fruit and cook gently until tender. This syrup may be used for apricots, peaches, pears, apples, crab apples, plums, loquats, and kumqats
Use the kiwi fruit chutney recipe, but substitute peeled, seeded loquats for kiwi fruit
To peel loquats for sauce and fruit cup, blanch by pouring boiling water over loquats to cover. Add 1/4 cup lemon juice to each quart of water. Cook over low heat about 5 minutes, just until skin loosen. Drain and reserve liquid. Cool, peel, halve, and seed loquats (remove seeds).
Loquat Sauce for Ice Cream
Combine two cups juice from blanched loquats with two cups sugar. (see Blanching above) Bring to boil, cook over medium heat until syrup spins a two-inch thread when dropped from a spoon (230 degrees to 234 degrees Farenheit on candy thermometer), about 20 minutes. Cool completely. Add two cups peeled, halved, seeded loquats. Chill, then serve over ice cream. Makes about three cups sauce.
Sugar and Spice Loquats
Sprinkle seeded (peeled if you want) fruit with granulated sugar. Mix cream cheese with powdered sugar and cinnamon and put in cavity. Top with a cut piece of strawberry.
BLOG NOTE: I have made the follow pie without seeds and it it is quite tasty.
8 cups loquats
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
pastry for a double crust pie
Stem, wash and cut up loquats, leaving a few seeds for flavor, (When the pie is baked, the seeds taste almost like nuts and are really very good). Cook the loquats in water, covered, for about 10 minutes or until almost tender.
Combine the sugar, flour, salt, ginger and allspice. Stir in the loquats. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Remove from the heat and cool.
Pour into a pie plate containing the bottom pie crust. Cover with the top crust and prick with a fork or put a few cuts in the top crust to allow steam to escape while baking.
Bake at 450 degrees “F” for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees “F” for another 45 minutes.
Cool and serve.. With Vanilla bean ice-cream, and a light rum sauce..
The following recipes come from Marian Van Atta, whom I knew in the early 80’s. She had a newspaper column called Living off the Land. She looked home-spun and back to nature long before it was posh, a portly Mom Nature. She has a book, also available at Amazon: “Exotic Foods, a Kitchen and Garden Guide.” Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1561642150/californirarefru
Fresh Loquat Relish
1 cup of loquats, cut in half and seeded
2 or three calamondins (quartered and seeded)
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup raisins
Put all ingredients in a blender and chop for a minute or so. Put in a covered jar and store in the refrigerator. Will last at least a week.
Martha’s Loquat Pie
3 cups loquats, seeded and sliced
3/4 cups sugar, less if fruit is very ripe
2 tablespoons flour.
Mix loquats, sugar and flour together. Put in unbaked 9-inch pie crust. Cover with top crust and slash for steam vents. Bank at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce to 350 degrees. Bake until crust is browned, about 35 more minutes.
You can also dry Loquats. Cut in half, remove seeds, prick skin with fork, dry accordingly.
Loquat Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion
Protein 1.4 g
Fat 0.7 g
Carbohydrates 43.3 g
Calcium 70 mg
Phosphorus 126 mg
Iron 1.4 mg
Potassium 1,216 mg
Vitamin A 2,340 I.U.
Ascorbic Acid 3 mg
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
Evergreen large shrub or small tree, rounded crown, short trunk, woolly new twigs. Leaves alternate, simple, 10-25 cm long, dark green, tough, leathery, toothed edge, velvety-hairy below.
TIME OF YEAR:
Culitvars vary, some fruit in spring, some fruit in late summer or fall.
It likes heat and full sun, will survive said if watered. Naturalized in many areas.
METHOD OF PREPARATION:
Yellow fruit raw or cooked, seeds can be used to make a cherry-flavored liquor.