The medlar of Japan is the fruit of the loquat. It is a small orange fruit with an oval shape, slightly fluffy skin. Its flesh is very juicy, sweet and acidic. Its core is toxic as it contains hydrocyanic acid. This fruit grows in Asia, but also around the Mediterranean (North Africa, Greece, Italy and Spain).
History of loquat
The loquat was introduced in Naples in 1784, in England in 1787 at Kew Garden from Japan or China.
Its scientific name is Eriobotrya, meaning “wood cluster”, refers to the fine hair that covers its white cream colored grouped flowers, as well as the underside of the leaves and young shoots. Japonica is also referenced to the place where the fruit was found even if it’s not its center of origin. The word loquat comes from Provençal and means “drinking”.
Description of loquat
This small tree with big shiny and persistent leaves has an incredible adaptability. Indeed, it grows well in tropical climate and temperate climates, even if fruit-forming doesn’t always happen. Native to China, this fruit also grows in Japan. Eriobotrya japonica orchards can also be found in all areas from Mediterranean climate such as California, Florida, Australia and the Mediterranean. Furthermore, the Japanese medlar belongs to the family of Rosaceae like apple and plum trees.
Its broad rounded top, formed with large tough and brilliant leaves, gives it a beautiful exotic look although it is able to tolerate frosts to -15 °C with no damage on the leaves. It quickly reaches 6 meters then thickens its top to form an elegant umbrella, perfect for shading. Its leaves are dense and dark. They really persist throughout the winter. The limbo underside has a white reddish color.
The branch ends present a bunch of flowers with sweet fragrance of bitter almond smell in autumn but also intermittently from November to April, after a particularly hot summer. Its flowering occurring at a critical time has the disadvantage to not resist to temperatures dropping down to -3 or -5 °C so carrying fruits is pretty random.
Fruits are about the size of a large plum, called loquat, and are sold in spring almost exclusively in their production area because their thin orange skin doesn’t support well handling. Moreover, their fresh flesh is delicious and contains very few calories.
You will enjoy planting a loquat seed because of its rapid growth and great longevity of the tree, ranging from 25 to 100 years. Its toxic seeds grouped by 2 or 3 in the fruit, have the size of a hazelnut and a bronze surface.
The fruits are quite rich in minerals (potassium, magnesium and calcium), fibers and organic acids. The presence of tannins in the skin makes them astringent. They are eaten in natural fruit, in jam, syrup (under the name of loquat) or in sauces to accompany some meats. Kernels are used to make “medlar liquor” on the island Réunion. Japanese medlar is used as pear rootstock in warm climate to form a tree with slow fruiting.
Note: do not confuse Japanese medlar with the common medlar (Mespilus germanica). The latter comes from Northern Europe and produces little brown berries which are eaten overripe.
Species and varieties of loquat
More than 800 varieties of medlars were selected. Varieties are most widely cultivated for their commercialization of American or Italian origins. They have a higher and better efficiency than other fruit species. Their transportation is more tolerant because they have a firm flesh. Spanish and Algerian varieties have local interest because they don’t keep well and are not well fixed. From a pomological perspective, two types of varieties exist, the Japanese and the Chinese.
Harvest of the loquat
When and how to harvest?
Harvest occurs between March and June according to the varieties when the loquat have a yellow or orange color.
Beware, too much fruit leads to them remaining small. If the winters are mild, you need to remove some of them when they reach the size of a large marble.
Tip: to ripen fruits, place them wrapped in a foil for an hour in the freezer. Then wait until the next day to consume them.
Conservation of loquat
Since they can be kept only for a short time, the loquat are usually only sold only on their production areas in Spain or Greece. However, you can place them in the warmest part of the refrigerator.
To avoid aphids, use lime on the trunk so ants which raise aphids cannot climb the tree.
Use of loquat
The loquat is a fruit rich in vitamins B, PP, C, but also potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. There are many recipes of the loquats, the fruit can be eaten fresh, but also in jams or frost, or even eaten with some savory dishes with meat and poultry. Be very careful not to incorporate kernels in your preparation since they are very toxic.