Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food. Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie. In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts. Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you. My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined. Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you. You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try! Let’s be bold and eat good food!
If you’re in a space where you’re able, I encourage you to say this word aloud. It’s a word that feels a little odd to say and hear. A peculiar word, it is, with sharp sounds that force you to enunciate.
I would venture to say that the experience of saying and hearing kumquat is similar to what it is like to eat one. Sharp. Deliberate. Peculiar. Maybe even a tad exotic.
I have, of course, known of the existence of kumquats for a lifetime. I’d heard of them without ever really knowing what they were. They seemed so unusual and foreign – not something I would happen across on an average day. I knew that they were a type of citrus, but I had never really considered what they would taste like. I knew they were quite small, but never stopped to ponder how to eat them properly. They were totally and completely mysterious to me.
Until last week.
Last week, I was wondering through the produce aisle at New Seasons Market (my favorite of all markets), looking at the abundance of various citrus that flooded the bins. There were navel oranges, blood oranges, sumo oranges, tangerines, tangelos, grapefruits (white and red), lemons, Meyer lemons, limes . . . you see where I’m going with this. The final stages of winter were producing a citrus bounty that was quite stunning, actually. Nestled among the cases of plump navels and grapefruits was a slim, almost unnoticeable bin of kumquats.
Here was the perplexing little fruit that I knew next to nothing about, but I decided to scoop some up. Taking home a handful, I put them on my counter and sort of stared. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. I needed to do some research, but was impatient and wanted to just try one right away. So I did.
Now, please don’t laugh at what I’m about to tell you.
Okay, laugh if you must, but just don’t tell me that you did.
Alright, so I took a kumquat – barely the size of my thumb – and set out to peel it. This was my instinct. You eat citrus after it’s been peeled, right? I tore into it and ripped off the outer flesh, tossing it into the bin. Left with what was truly a miniscule bit of fruit, I bit in. It was tart. REALLY TART. Not bad. But more tart than seemed reasonable to eat on it’s own.
I closed the bag, left them on my counter, and decided I needed to seek out answers on how to eat these tiny fruits from the those in the know – random people on the Internet.
The problem was I got busy and it took me a few days to get around to it. When I finally did consult the all-knowing Internet, I had waited too long. Once of the first things I learned was that kumquats don’t last long at room temperature and can turn rancid and moldy. The second thing I learned about kumquats was that you don’t peel them. You eat them whole – skin and all.
That makes so much sense, because let me tell you, peeling a kumquat is not an easy thing to do well.
Plus, the skin actually is crucial to the taste experience. As it turns out, the inside of the kumquat is very tart (as I had experienced), but the peel of a kumquat is very sweet. When you bite into one whole, you get both together, creating an entirely different (and more balanced) foodie experience.
Well, I felt a little silly learning this, thinking how I had torn apart my first one, but I was determined to try again. Back to New Seasons I went, where I purchased a new batch of kumquats. This time they went into my refrigerator for preserving freshness. All except for one, that is. That one I promptly washed and ate, standing right over my kitchen sink, skin and all.
Wow. What a different experience. There was tart again, sure, but this time there was so much more than that. It went something like this. When I first bit in, I was hit with the tartness of the body of the fruit, but then, after just a moment, as I ate it, the sweetness from the skin is released and they come together to provide a complex, layered flavor that was unlike any other citrus I’ve ever tasted. It was exotic. It was peculiar. It was delightful.
I ate a couple more this way, reveling in this whole new flavor experience. I had also noticed online, though, that a common use for them is in salad. Well, I’m a girl who loves her greens and I eat 1-2 salads a day. Perfect. When dinnertime rolled around, I decided to slice a couple up and add them to my salad. Combined with a combination of power greens (romaine lettuce, kale, baby chard, and baby spinach), cucumber, tomatoes, and raw red onion, they made a beautiful looking salad bowl. Then, after drizzling with white wine vinegar and sprinkling with salt, pepper, and sunflower seeds, I dug in. They were a WONDERFUL addition to my standard salad. They added a refreshing brightness and zing that was absolutely delicious.
Final Thoughts: Kumquats are a fantastic find. I’m utterly astounded that something so compact can pack in so much exciting flavor. I’m definitely glad I gave these little fruits a try (despite my initial misunderstanding about how to eat them!).
Serving Suggestions: Try them raw, as I did, to just get to know them a bit. Certainly, slice them up and add them to a salad – you won’t even need much dressing with their added flavor.
I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve also seen them used in cocktails. I kind of like the idea of a little muddled kumquat with some dry gin, a dash of bitters, and maybe even a splash of grenadine – served with a slice of kumquat on the rim or floating on top for visual appeal. Sounds like a good happy hour to me.
Lessons Learned: Do my research. I can laugh at myself for the ridiculousness that was me trying to peel that tiny little thing, but I could have saved myself some time, trouble, and a whole batch of spoiled kumquats if I had done my research first. Let’s hope I can remember this in the future.