A loquat is both a tree and its fruit, thought to have originated in China. At least 1,000 years ago, the Japanese began to cultivate the loquat. Loquats are now grown in the Middle East, parts of Europe and Africa, Brazil, Hawaii, and throughout California.
Californians began to grow this tree in the 19th century. The tree is an evergreen, and makes a pleasing addition to landscaping. Additionally, the loquat blooms in late fall or early winter, when there are few flowers available. The tree fruits in early spring, so it is the first of the summer-like fruits to appear.
Tree height is variable, ranging anywhere from 10 to 30 feet (about 3-9 m) high. Generally, unless a loquat is well established, trees are in the shorter range. The fruit itself has a soft, fuzzy exterior comparable to an apricot in size and color, but not in shape. The loquat is teardrop or pear shaped and generally is not larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm) long.
The loquat fruit is generally eaten as is in most cultures. However, it has a relatively high pectin content and can be a valuable addition to jam, jelly or chutney. Some find the taste slightly acidic, but the acidity is diminished if the fruit is eaten when completely ripe. Loquats taste exotic, a cross between a passion fruit and a guava. Their sweetness makes them a perfect substitute for more calorie-rich desserts.
Loquats are also lovely in fruit salad and baked fruit desserts like cobbler. Adventurous winemakers have created a loquat wine, as well. Others bake lamb or ham with loquats. The Chinese use the loquat to make a cough syrup.
Both the exterior and interior of the loquat are edible, though some prefer to peel the fruit. The three or four seeds, which look a bit like hazelnuts, are not edible, as they contain a small amount of cyanide. In any preparation of the loquat, the seeds should be discarded.
Though the loquat enjoys great popularity in parts of Asia and South America, with Japan being the largest producer, in California these tempting fruits are largely ignored. The fruit is often left to fall on the ground, and few recognize its delicious potential.
This writer will never forget discovering the loquat when growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. After long winters of consuming apples that continued to decrease in quality, loquat trees laden with fresh fruit were a welcome change. Often, the trees could be found in abandoned yards or on the grounds of businesses, and most business owners were more than happy to allow young children to pick as many as they could hold.
If one is not so lucky as to live in an area where the loquat is grown, the fruit is generally available at Asian or Hispanic markets. Loquats can also be ordered online when they are in season. Loquat marmalades and jellies may be found year-round on the Internet or in specialty grocery stores.