The kumquat is one of the more unusual citrus fruits. You eat the entire thing, peel and all, and it’s a bit of an acquired taste. The mix of sweetness and bitterness makes it a cooking ingredient with many uses. Even if you don’t eat it, as a plant it’s really lovely.
Its leaves are a deep glossy green and in spring it will be covered in sweet-smelling blossom, which gives way to cute little fruits, about an inch long. The fruit should ripen through summer and they’re ready to eat when their skins turn deep orange.
Native to China, it was brought to Europe in the 1800s and has been popular ever since. A kumquat tree would be a prized plant in a Victorian conservatory.
Like all citrus trees, the kumquat needs a lot of sun, enough water to keep its soil consistently moist, and regular feeding. This is a tough plant and can withstand colder temperatures than the lemon or lime, but it will still need to come inside over winter. Temperatures below about 7 degrees can cause serious damage.
As it grows you may want to prune it to help it keep its shape. It’s best to do this after you’ve picked off any fruit, so it can put its energy into new growth rather than the fruit. And it’s a great excuse to use all that fruit.
Depending on the time of year, your tree may arrive without fruit, but if you give it enough warmth and sun it should flower and fruit from spring.
Did you know?
In Cantonese, kumquat means ‘golden mandarin orange’.