Categorized | Agriculture, Featured

Farming with Love: Loquat

Ken Love | Special to Hawaii 24/7

Packaged loquat in Japan.

Packaged loquat in Japan.

The loquat is steeped in tradition and ancient Chinese mythology. For many years only the Chinese royalty was allowed to eat the fruit, as it was thought that loquat fruit falling into the rivers gave the koi, or carp, the strength and desire to swim against current and up waterfalls and be turned into mythical dragons. The emperor didn’t want the common people to have that kind of strength.

The fruit was introduced from China to Japan as early as 700. In 914, the first Chinese medical textbook was translated to Japanese and mentioned how to use loquat to obtain clear lungs by brewing tea from the leaves. Japanese law books in the early 900’s stated the proper way to present loquat as an offering to the Shinto Gods.

In Hawaii, loquat is sometimes called pipa (Chinese) or biwa (Japanese). There are names for the fruit in many many languages but not English although it is sometimes called Japanese medlar or pear.

Arguably, loquat is one of the most popular fruits in the world. In 1699, the fruit first appeared in Spain, which along with China and Japan, are the world’s largest commercial producers. Loquat is also popular in the Middle East, India, South America and South Africa.

The fruit may have been introduced to Hawaii as early as 1787 with Chinese visitors. In 1831, Dr. FJF Meyen wrote of hearing about a Chinese settlement on Maui prior to Captain Cook’s arrival. Loquat was found in the yards of many of Hawaii’s first Asian immigrants.

Loquat bagged on the tree.

Loquat inside protective bags on the tree.

There are more than 900 varieties of loquat, ranging from light yellow in color to dark orange. Often people pick them yellow when most should stay on the tree until they are orange and the sugars develop.

Fighting with birds and fruit flies is always an issue for growers. We let them grow inside protective bags until fully ripe and not blemished. They do tend to bruise easily and can often get sunburned. This does not affect the flavor but can prevent marketing of the fruit commercially.

In the U.S., loquat is found in Florida where the variety Wolfe was popular along with Advance, Mammoth and varieties from California. Gold Nugget, Big Jim, Champagne are a few others.

In Hawaii, Tanaka, an early Japanese variety is grown along with those brought from the mainland. About 10 years ago, I got the permits to bring in newer Japanese varieties like Fusa hime, Fusa Hikari, Mizuho and the largest one Obusa.

Dr. Yahata in Chiba Japan has developed a seedless variety called Kibou, which has not yet been release to growers. It is delicious and large. The tree is a sub-tropical and can withstand some cold weather. It can be found throughout the Southern U.S. and as far north as Washington, D.C.

The flavor and texture can vary by variety and degree of ripeness when picked. Some varieties have much more juice than others.

Sometimes the fruit is called a Japanese pear, which gives an indication of the texture but I think loquat has to be experienced. I’ll never forget my first taste!

Thirty years ago, I was walking down the street in Tokyo with my penpal and future business partner when he reached up into a tree a grabbed one. Hiko told me it was biwa and he was lucky to find one before the crows got into it. Almost as an afterthought he asked if I wanted to try it. Growing up in Chicago I had never heard of the fruit that was often planted on Tokyo streets after the war.

I tried one and had never experienced a subtle sweet taste with a perfect mixture of juice and solids. We spent the next hour scouring trees in streets and parks around Tokyo stuffing ourselves. To this day, I walk by those trees to say thanks. In a way that experience defined much of my life and the research on tropical fruit that I’ve done since then.

Loquat does not grow true to seed with most fruit from seedlings being much smaller than normal and somewhat sour. The largest varieties in Japan can weight up to 120 grams. Loquat can last a long time in the fridge or processed into juice. When peeled they will oxidize and start to turn brown.

We use a lot of them and usually sit down to watch some DVD while peeling and removing seeds from a large box of fruit. After each is peeled it’s placed in a jar of water to keep its color. After we use the fruit, the flavored water is delicious!

Recently I picked up a strange flu. Tea made from leaves was a big help in the cure. Usually I dry the leaves before letting them soak in water in the sun but in this case I used fresh leaves, which worked just as well.

I’ve never visited a Chinese medicine shop that didn’t have some tincture of loquat to sell. The fruit is also a good source of Vitamin A.

Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion *
Moisture        87g
Calories        47-168
Protein         0.43-1.4 g
Fat             0.64- 0.7 g
Carbohydrates   11-43.3 g
Fiber           0.83-1.7g
Ash             0.48g
Calcium         9-70 mg
Iron            0.14mg–1.4mg
Phosphorus      11-126 mg
Potassium       185- 1,216 mg
Vitamin A       1122- 2,340 I.U.
Ascorbic Acid   0-3 mg

* Ranges vary greatly due to degree of ripeness of fruit tested.

Considered the first sign of spring in many Asian locations, loquat is one of the most healthy fruits that anyone can enjoy if you are lucky enough to find them at a farmers market. In cold areas you can try to pot them inside and with luck, get fruit in a few years. If you can find seeds, it’s well worth the effort!

(Farming with Love is a semi-regular column by Kona resident Ken Love, a specialist in tropical fruit horticulture and market development. Love works on sustainability issues for Hawaii farmers, value-added product development and farmer-chef relations. Contact Love at ken@mycoffee.net

5 Responses to “Farming with Love: Loquat”

  1. ahmed m chehab says:

    hello ken did enjoy readind about loquat iam a bammboo farmer in miami dr bamboo come from lebanon where loquat are in abundance with such large fruite and sweet flavor iam contemplating on growin loquat for fruite production any help and recomendation is greatly appreciated
    ahmed m chehab

  2. Min Kenagy says:

    Interestingly, this was on TV last week!

  3. Lyubov says:

    Does someone know where can I buy a loquat “Big Jim” grafted tree?

  4. Alan K says:

    Does anyone know where I can obtain variety of loquat called “mizuho” in the San Diego County area of Southern California?
    I am a tropical fruit plant hobbyist and have a lot of local loquat seedlings, but not a Mizuho.

  5. ken love says:

    Mizuho loquat is only in Japan and Hawaii. Calif. Prohibits us form sending it to you.

    Many nurserys in Calif. and Fla. Have big Jim. If your in Hi. you can write the Calif. Rare fruit growers crfg.org and get through to Big Jim Netzil himself. Maybe he knows where you can get scion.

    SOrry I missed your messages form 2010, feel free to send email ken@mycoffee.net

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