Kumquats, tiny citrus fruits that look a bit like oblong oranges, have a bright sweet-tart flavor that rivals the best, most complex citrus out there. And, unlike most of their citrus brethren, the peel on these inch-long fruits is edible, so you can just wash them and pop them into your mouth whole.
Start looking for kumquats in January; they usually don't appear in grocery stores until the end of the month, but they can occasionally come in earlier. Kumquats stay in season through March and sometimes into April. Believed to be native to China, kumquats are cultivated throughout Asia, including extensively in Japan; commercial growers in California and Florida supply most of the kumquats in U.S. grocery stores, though.
How to Choose Kumquats
Buy kumquats with bright, smooth skins that feel a bit heavy for their diminutive size. Avoid kumquats with bruises, cuts, or blemishes of any kind—the edible skin is more delicate and tender than that of other citrus fruits and thus, more susceptible to damage. It's also the sweetest part of the fruit; the juicy insides contribute the tartness.
Since you'll end up eating the peel, it's smart to look for certified organic kumquats so you know they weren't sprayed with pesticides.
How to Store Kumquats
Eat or use kumquats as quickly as possible after you purchase them. Unlike other citrus fruits, kumquats don't have a long shelf life; the thin, edible peels don't provide the protection that the thicker peels of oranges or lemon do.
If you do need to store them for a few days, keep kumquats in a paper bag or loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge.
How to Use Kumquats
Kumquats make a great snack or light dessert eaten out of hand, or added whole or halved to fruits salads. They are also a great addition to crunchy winter salads such as an endive kumquat salad. They can also be preserved to great effect as in honeyed preserved kumquats, which are delicious spooned over ice cream or plain yogurt. Or save their flavor in kumquat vodka or gin. Kumquats can also be puréed and made into a luscious kumquat cream pie.
No matter how you use kumquats, make sure you give them a good rinse (or even a scrub) to make sure they're clean before you start popping them into your mouth.
Where to Find Kumquats
Look for kumquats at farmers markets, specialty stores, and well-stocked grocery stores. Since they make such a healthful snack, they are increasingly available at more places. Kumquats don't do well in cold weather, and they need some heat in the summer to grow the best tasting fruit, so you won't find locally grown kumquats everywhere.
Luckily, kumquats grow nicely in pots, so if you're willing to bring those pots inside when the weather turns chilly, you may be able to grow a few kumquats yourself, even in a less forgiving climate.