Kumquats: The Bite-Sized Citrus Fruit

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Kumquats are small, golden orange citrus fruits native to China. They have a sweet edible outer peel and a white fleshy pulp with a citrusy flavor.

What is a Kumquat?

Kumquats are a variety of citrus belonging to the family Rutaceae (Genus Fortunella). There are two main kumquat species: the Nagami and Marumi. The Marumi (Fortunella japonica) is round and Nagami (Fortunella margarita) is oval. 

Kumquats are also known as “cumquats” in Australia. Kumquat comes from two Cantonese words; gam (gold) and gwat (tangerine).

Nagami was introduced to North America in 1850 and to Florida in 1885. In 1901, a mature Nagami kumquat bore 3,000 to 3,500 fruits.

There is also a natural hybrid of Marumi and Nagami called Meiwa (Citrus crassiflora). Meiwa kumquats are common in Australia, China, and the United States. Another wild variety is the Hong Kong kumquat, which is less fleshy and is mainly grown for ornamental purposes.

Kumquat trees are mostly thornless, although some may have a few spikes. Kumquat plants can grow up to 8 to 15 ft tall with light green branches and white flowers. The fruit’s diameter ranges from 5/8 to 1 1/2 inches (1.5-3.8 cm). These plants thrive in warm climates, producing larger and sweeter fruits.

They are typically consumed whole and have a distinctive refreshing, slightly acidic, sweet, tangy flavor. 

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Kumquats ripe on the vine, ready to be harvested.

The History of Kumquats

Kumquats were introduced to Europe from Southeast Asia in the 19th century by Robert Fortune. They first appeared in Chinese literature in the 12th century (1178 A.D.) They are grown worldwide, including in the US, Japan, Brazil, and South Africa. 

They are regarded as good luck in Chinese culture and are common in the Chinese New Year decorations. In Vietnam, kumquats are popular decorations during the Tet festival. The Japanese utilize this fruit in traditional medicine because they believe Kumquats provide several health advantages.

What Does a Kumquat Taste Like?

Kumquats have a sweet-tart flavor with a little bitter aftertaste when raw. The fleshy flesh contrasts in texture with its skin, which is also edible.

Kumquats soften and become sweeter when cooked, developing a caramelized flavor. They can lend a tangy and citrusy flavor to various meals, including jams, marmalades, and sauces.

How to Tell When a Kumquat is Ripe

Here are tips to help determine when a kumquat is ripe:

TextureA mature kumquat has thin, edible skin that is somewhat rough and dimpled with a hard but delicate texture. Its flesh is luscious and pulpy, tastes tart, sweet, and slightly sour.
FirmnessA ripe kumquat feels firm.
ScentA ripe kumquat smells like a combination of sweet and tart citrus notes with a slight bitterness.
ColorA ripe kumquat can be dark orange or bright-yellow orange.

In summary, look for kumquats that are firm, shiny, and vivid orange in color. Avoid kumquats that are wilted, dull, squishy, or have mold or blemishes. Select fruits that are heavier for their size because this signals juiciness.

Can I Eat the Peel of a Kumquat?

Yes, kumquat peel is edible. Many people find them appealing because they have sweet skin and bitter pulp. Raw fruit offers additional nutritional advantages because the skin has fiber and vital oils.

Cooking with Kumquats

Prepare Kumquats by washing them under running water to eliminate any dirt or residue. Use a vegetable peeler or a paring knife to remove the skin if it is tough or bitter. The skin, however, is palatable and can enhance the flavor and texture of many recipes.

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Because of their highly bitter flavor profile, kumquats are excellent for making marmalade.

Some popular dishes that use kumquats include the following:

  • Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Kumquats: This savory stew features tender chicken, aromatic spices, tangy kumquats, and preserved lemon
  • Japanese Kumquat Marmalade: This sweet and tangy spread is made with kumquats, sugar, and water and can be used as a topping for toast, yogurt, or ice cream. Try adding other varieties of citrus, such as clementines or sudachi, to add more complex flavors to the marmalade!
  • Chinese Kumquat Tea: This refreshing drink steers kumquat, honey, and ginger in hot water. It can be served hot or cold and is believed to have health benefits. 
  • Kumquat and Cardamom Upside-Down Cake: A moist and fragrant cake topped with caramelized kumquats and aromatic cardamom.

How to Store Kumquats

Store kumquat fruits away from direct sunlight in a cool, dry place like a fruit bowl or pantry. You can also refrigerate them for up to two weeks to preserve moisture levels.

Frozen kumquats can stay up to six months in airtight containers. Dried kumquats can be kept in an airtight container in a cold, dry location for several months.

Ideally, they can be kept for up to two weeks on the counter, two months in the refrigerator, six months in the freezer, and many months if dried when properly stored.

Nutritional Benefits of Kumquats

Kumquats have abundant vitamins, fiber, and minerals but are low in calories. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps maintain a robust immune system, and vitamin A, necessary for clear vision.

The fruit is rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium, which help maintain normal blood pressure and strong bones.

Kumquats are also abundant in antioxidants like flavonoids and carotenoids, which support the body’s defenses against injury from dangerous free radicals. Kumquats and other nutrient-dense foods can promote general health and lower the risk of chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

Where to Purchase Kumquats

Kumquats are available at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and specialized shops that sell fresh vegetables. Farmers’ markets are an excellent location to find fresh kumquats if you reside where they are grown. Kumquat preserves, jellies, and other items may also be available in specialty shops.

Kumquats are in season from November to March, so it’s the best time to find them on the market. The regional climate can, however, have an impact on their accessibility.

If your local grocery shop or farmers’ market does not have fresh kumquats, you can order them online from specialized food retailers or citrus farms that offer to ship direct to consumers.


Tabitha is a freelance writer with love for food and drinks. She loves gardening and is always looking for new ways to get more fresh produce. She also loves animals and has dairy goats, chicken, sheep, a dog, and a cat at her home.

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