Kumquats are citrus fruits that look like tiny, oblong oranges and have a bright sweet-tart flavor. Kumquats are grown throughout Asia and also in North America in California and Florida, where they're at their peak in midwinter. Unlike other types of citrus, the peel on these little fruits is edible, making them a handy snack. They can also be used raw and cooked in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
What Are Kumquats?
Kumquats are mini citrus fruits that grow in warm-weather climates on small, shrub-like trees that are typically used in landscaping. Native to eastern Asia and belonging to the same family of fruit as oranges, lemons, and limes, kumquats distinguish themselves with their small size and edible peel. Depending on the variety, they can appear as early as November and as late as April, but they're at their best in December and January. Kumquats are enjoyed in a variety of ways: candied, pickled, pureed, turned into marmalade, or simply washed and eaten whole.
How to Use Kumquats
Kumquats are commonly enjoyed raw and eaten whole as a sweet-tart snack. They can appear as part of a holiday spread, providing decoration for the table and a fruity palate cleanser. The fruit is also frequently sliced or left whole and candied for a tasty addition to desserts or drinks. Similar to oranges, kumquats can be pureed or juiced. Peeling isn't necessary, but you will need to strain out the little seeds.
Cooking kumquats mellows their tartness, making them popular for marmalades, chutneys, and jams. These condiments can be paired with savory dishes like roasted or grilled meats for a sweet, tart note.
What Do Kumquats Taste Like?
Kumquats have a flavor similar to an orange. However, their thin peel is sweet instead of bitter, with the flesh providing a jolt of tart and sour taste. The soft and slightly chewy peel gives way to a juicy, tender interior. The level of tartness varies depending on the ripeness and variety of the fruit.
The sweet-tart flavor of raw kumquats adds a nice counterpoint in savory dishes and a fruitiness to cocktails. Candied fruits make an attractive cake decoration, and kumquat marmalade is a welcome addition to the breakfast table.
Where to Buy Kumquats
While in season, look for kumquats at farmers' markets, specialty stores, and well-stocked grocery stores. Kumquat plants tend to be more hearty than other citrus, withstanding cold weather well, but they need some heat in the summer to grow the best-tasting fruit. These growing restrictions, plus their relative unpopularity compared to mainstream fruits, means you won't find locally grown kumquats everywhere.
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 therefore more susceptible to damage. Since you're eating the peel, you may want to buy organic to avoid fruit sprayed with pesticides.
Kumquat trees thrive in planting zones 8 to 10 when directly planted in the ground. And they’re an easy plant to grow in pots nearly everywhere else, whether on a warm patio in the summer or indoors under grow lights in the winter. The fruit is ready for picking when it turns deep orange and is slightly soft.
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. This is because their peels are much thinner than fruits like oranges and lemons.
If you need to store kumquats for a few days, keep them in a paper bag at room temperature or in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge for up to a week.
Varieties of Kumquats
Two main kinds of kumquats exist. The more popular oval-shaped kumquat, such as Nagami, tends to have a more tart flavor. Round varieties, like Marumi, often have larger fruits and a milder, sweeter flavor. Sweetness, sourness, and juiciness can vary depending on the variety. Various hybrids exist, bred to produce the best-tasting fruits, and ranging in color from light yellow-orange to deep orange. There's even a striped or variegated variety called Centennial. Kumquats can form hybrids with other citrus fruits, such as the calamondin (or calamansi), which is believed to be a combination of kumquat and mandarin orange.