October 11, 2018
A knobby, pale-green to bright yellow pome fruit, quince looks much like a pear or an apple. In fact, apples, pears, and quince all belong to the Rosacea family. But, the similarities really end there. Unlike apples and pears, you don’t eat a quince raw. To enjoy a quince, it should first be cooked. While this may seem bizarre, or feel like a deterrent, making the extra effort is worth it: once cooked, the fruit turns into a soft, sweet treat and releases a heady, fragrant aroma. Cooked quince has some unique applications for which it has no substitute.
An ancient fruit, quince is believed to predate the apple, and may very well be the forbidden fruit spoken of in the Garden of Eden. Its exact origin is unclear, but it’s said to be native to the Caucasus region, which is located at the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, spanning across Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, northwestern Iran, and northeastern Turkey. From there, the fruit spread to the Mediterranean. In ancient Greece, quince was hailed as “the fruit of love,” and believed to embody love, marriage, and fertility. Because of this, it was often offered at weddings as a gift, intended to be shared between the newlyweds. There is even a legend that Helen of Troy bribed Paris to give a quince to Aphrodite as the prize in a beauty contest, a controversial act that then started the Trojan War.
The quince has continued to be an important part of European cuisine through the centuries. In Medieval times, it was prized for it’s intense, fruity aroma (perfect for covering up the plethora of unpleasant smells that were likely a major part of life in the Middle Ages) and high pectin content, which made it exceptionally effective for jams, jellies, and marmalades. In fact, the term “marmalade” comes from the Portuguese word for quince: “marmelo.”
Taste & Texture
While there are many cultivars of quince grown around the world, the primary cultivar grown commercially in California is the pineapple quince. This quince, along with most other cultivars, starts pale-green, but is harvested when beginning to turn bright yellow. It has off-white flesh that is crisp but grainy with a fragrant fruity aroma with notes of vanilla, citrus, guava, and apple. It’s normal to see a fuzz coating the skin of quince when under-ripe; it’ll gradually fall away as it ripens, leaving a smooth skin in its place. When raw, quince is exceptionally tart – too much so to eat. But the tartness can be tamed by cooking. Most often stewed in water (or wine) and sugar, quince’s off-white flesh turns a surprising rosy pink color when cooked. Its texture will become soft and tender, and the flavor becomes extremely aromatic, floral, and sweet.
Fresh quince is associated primarily with the fall season. In the United States, quince is primarily available from growers in California from late September to early December. There is also a limited supply available in the US market from Chile in April and May. Other major growing regions that do not supply the US market include Turkey, China, Uzbekistan, and Morocco.
Quince is chock full of vitamins A and C (which help to give the immune system a boost), dietary fiber (which helps with weight management by making one feel fuller, longer), zinc, potassium, copper, and iron.
Storage & Handling
Choose firm, bright yellow colored quinces. Do be mindful that while they may feel hard, they do bruise easily and should be handled with care. Under ideal circumstances, quince should be stored at 32 degrees, and can last several weeks. In the kitchen, they can be kept at room temperature for up to a week, or stored in the fridge for close to three weeks.
While a select few believe that eating quince raw is perfectly palatable (we’ve heard that slicing raw quince thinly atop leafy greens and dressing with freshly squeezed lemon juice works well), we’ll argue that cooking before eating is much more rewarding.
Opportunities are plentiful. Due to the fruit’s high amount of pectin, it is ideal for use in jams, jellies, marmalades, pastes, compotes, and leather candy. It is the key ingredient in membrillo – a famous paste hailing from Spain that is also popular in Latin America often served with cheese. Aside from stewing or poaching the fruit, quince is also delicious baked into desserts like tarts and crisps, and makes a good substitute or addition to apple pie. Quince’s tart, aromatic nature makes it equally at home in savory dishes. It’s sourness cuts refreshingly through the fat when served alongside rich meats like duck, lamb, and pork.
#1. Quince Membrillo
A very popular quince paste served on cheese plates alongside manchego.
Quince, Fall Fruit, Seasonal, Fall, Product Guide