Grocery Ninja: Kumquats Are Grown-Up 'Mega Warheads'

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here.


Kumquats. Photograph from orphanjones on Flickr

Remember Mega Warheads or Super Lemon—those insanely tart, hard candies that made your eyes squinch and your lips pucker and your head go, "Oh my! Oh my!" and then "Ahhh..." when the intense sour finally gave way to sugary-sweet insides?


Kumquat cross-section. Photograph from Splat Worldwide on Flickr

I remembered them this weekend, when the boyfriend brought home a box of kumquats—tiny, pixie citruses about the size of my thumb and cute as all get out. The Chinese think kumquats resemble gold ingots, so my family always had ornamental pots of them around the house to symbolize wealth and abundance. But I never thought to eat them.

My boyfriend's family though, would routinely preserve kumquats in salt to get an end product that is very similar to Moroccan or Middle Eastern preserved lemons. The fruit are simply placed in a glass jar and covered in salt. Over time, the fruit dehydrates and shrinks, and the juice combines with the salt to form a brine. Added to hot water, a few preserved kumquats and a couple of teaspoons of brine were his family's go-to remedy for sore throats.

Kumquats confound my lifetime's experience with citrus fruit. Instead of juicy sweet insides and a bitter-tart rind, kumquats have salty-tart insides that burst in your mouth before the sweet relief of the rind kicks in. You eat the entire fruit—peel and all— and there are always a few agonizing milliseconds when you're wondering if you should just spit the sour abomination out. But if you persevere, the rind's sweetness acts as balm to the acid and the end result is a surprisingly addictive, grown-up candy.

Besides the over-riding tartness, kumquats also have a certain "grassiness" (in the same way Sauvignon Blancs are grassy) which resolve in a most delightful apricot-like aftertaste. Its sparky zip has shown up in plenty of interesting places: candied, robed in dark chocolate, and kissed with a touch of crunchy sea salt; used to jazz up terriyaki salmon; made into a chutney for serving alongside roast quail; steeped in vodka to make a liqueur; substituted for limes to make kumquat mojitos; in marmalade; mixed with some soy sauce and peanut oil for a delicious salad dressing; to flavor yogurt panna cotta, crème fraîche, or custard; and candied and sliced up on a cheeseboard.

An intriguing recipe I came across are kumquat boats: halved kumquats are seeded and their pulp scooped out. This pulp is then whizzed in a blender with cream cheese and crystalized ginger, before being piped back into the half-shell "boats." It's a fantastic hors d'oeuvre that makes both little kids and big ones go like this:


Kumquat face. Photograph from O Pish Posh on Flickr

Gold in my books.