If you live in or have ever visited a citrus-growing region like California or Florida, you may have come across a large tree with what looked like thousands of tiny, oval-shaped oranges. However, these likely weren’t orange, but kumquats: the most diminutive member of the citrus family.
Now, whether they’re scientifically classified as genus Citrus or not is up for debate. Some plant biologists argue they should be classified strictly as genus Fortunella as there are some slight differences between kumquats and other citrus fruits. However, since kumquats and other citrus share similar ancestors and can crossbreed the two classifications are generally used interchangeably.
Kumquats may be the most radical of the citrus fruits, not just for their size, but because of how you eat them. Kumquats are ready to go when you simply pluck them off the tree and eat away. The paper-thin skin is where the sugar lies, and there’s virtually no bitter pith. The flesh is extremely, mouth-puckeringly, sour. The seeds, while sometimes a bit crunchy, are small and edible.
So what are kumquats used for? Most people use them for kumquat marmalade to be used as a spread, or for baking and cooking purposes. Others simply sliver them and add them to salads. Many chefs also pickle and preserve them in sugar, salt, or vinegar and use them as condiments for other dishes.
In Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, kumquats are often smashed with honey, ginger, or even salt and made into a tisane to heal colds and flu.
There are numerous varieties of kumquats, and a few unique varieties of citrus bred from the kumquat:
Round or Meiwa Kumquat: These small fruits are round in shape, like large marbles, and have a golden-colored peel when ripe. The flavor of the flesh is much sweeter than most kumquats.
Oval or Nagami Kumquat: The most common variety of kumquat. These oblong fruits have a bright, nearly neon orange color when ripe. They’re prized for their sweet-tart flavor.
Jiangsu Kumquat: More bell-shaped than the Nagami, the flavor is considered less boastful than other varieties.
Centennial Variegated Kumquat: This round, squat kumquat is a chimera of the Nagami. The fruits are round and defined by their green and yellow stripes running from the tip to the base of the fruit. The flavor is the same as the nagami.
Mandarinquat: The Mandarinquat is a cross between a kumquat and a mandarin. The fruits look like oblong, miniature tangelos. Like a kumquat, they can be eaten whole. However, the rind is a bit crunchy and the seeds are larger.
Limequat: A cross between a key lime and a kumquat. Extremely sour with a slight, salty tang. These can be eaten whole. The skin is extremely sweet, with a tangy and sour flesh similar to that of a lime. They were bred by Walter Tennyson Swingle in 1909.