The kumquat is a citrus fruit originating from China where it has been cultivated since the 12th century. It was first brought to Europe by Robert Fortune, a botanist of the Royal Horticultural Society. Kumquat means “Golden Orange” in Chinese.
It grows to about four metres in height and is cultivated in temperate and subtropical climes for its fruit but also as a decorative indoor plant. Its leaves are dark green, bayonet shaped and its flower similar to that of the orange tree. Its fruit is either round or egg shaped depending on the variety and reaches a diameter of about four cm. Although raw, its taste is bittersweet and not particularly juicy, it has so many uses that it has become a Corfiot trademark.
The kumquat was first brought to Corfu in 1846 by the English botanist Sydney Merlin, who also grew a variety of orange on his estate north of the town. Called navel orange elsewhere, in Greece it bears his name. Today the kumquat, which has earned PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, is mainly cultivated in Northern Corfu near the village of Nimfes. Annual production amounts to about 140 tonnes. Most of the crop ends up as liqueur, but the fruit is also used in cooking, and especially in sweets such as glazed fruit, marmalades, and other confections. It even finds its way into perfumes.
It is no coincidence that as you wander around the streets of Corfu town, you will come across dozens of shops selling kumquat in all its guises.