What's sweet on the outside, sour on the inside, and delicious all over? The answer is kumquats - bright and beautiful little citrus-type fruits that look like miniature oranges, but have a unique flavor all their own.
Kumquats (also sometimes spelled cumquats) are native to China, where they're a symbol of prosperity that is traditionally exchanged at Lunar New Year. Kumquat varieties are now grown in the US and they're available in almost every supermarket, but they remain an odd and exotic fruit that is sure to pack a taste surprise the first time you try one.
Though their vibrantly colored rind makes them look like very small oranges (most kumquats are only a little larger than a good-sized olive), they're very different. There is even a certain amount of disagreement about whether kumquats are members of the citrus family; some botanists classify them as members of the Fortunella family (a group of fruits named after horticulturalist Robert Fortune, who introduced them to Europe).
But no matter how they're classified, kumquats have a taste and texture all their own. Unlike oranges, which have an inedible rind that must be removed to get at the sweet flesh, kumquats are best eaten whole, rind and all. The rind is actually sweet and delicate, while the flesh of the fruit is distinctly tangy and mouth-puckeringly sour, so each bite of a kumquat is a flavor combination that's truly unique.
The type of kumquat most readily available in the US is the Nagami strain, which is grown in warm climates like Florida and California. The season for kumquats is late winter through spring, so expect to see them from December through June. Look for fruits that have a bright orange color and a smooth, shiny rind that's free of bruises. Kumquats can be stored for up to two weeks if refrigerated.
How To Use Kumquats
The most traditional way to enjoy kumquats is to eat them whole, either chilled or at room temperature. But their intense tartness makes them an excellent candidate for use in a wide variety of dishes, both sweet and savory.
Sliced or diced raw, they make an interesting addition to salads. Cooking the fruit in a simply syrup of sugar and water turns them into a sweet treat that goes well with other desserts, and they're a favorite for jams, jellies, and marmalade. Kumquats can also be used in savory relishes like chutney.