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In season: Kumquats small but flavorful, nutritious

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Kumquats are in season from late November to early June, but their peak season is right now, when they’re at their best. Although they’re small, kumquats are power-packed with flavor and good nutrition.

The best way to eat them is raw and whole. Unlike most citrus, the fleshy peel is the sweet part, while the juice inside is tart. Chew them well, because the longer you chew, the sweeter the flavor. The seeds are edible, although if you don’t like them, they’re easy to spit out or pick out if you halve the fruits.

Because the best way to eat them is to pop them whole into your mouth and chew, it’s wise to seek out organic kumquats as that’s a guarantee they haven’t been sprayed with toxic agricultural chemicals.

Oliver’s Market is selling organic kumquats, according to its produce department, “although they’re pricey,” said Oliver’s produce department employee Dylan Bean.

But you get a lot for your money. A 3-ounce serving — about five kumquats — gives you 6.5 grams of soluble fiber, more than almost any other fresh fruit. That soluble fiber is a prebiotic, meaning it’s food for the health-giving gut bacteria that do so much to strengthen our immune systems, extract the full complement of nutrients from our food and manage our moods.

In addition, those 3 ounces of kumquats give us three-quarters of our daily requirement of vitamin C, plus calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

Kumquats’ 3-ounce serving has only 71 calories, making them a filling snack for those watching their weight.

The variety called Nagami is the one most commonly sold in the United States. It’s oval and about the size of a large grape. The Meiwa variety is rounder and a little sweeter. The word “kumquat” itself comes from the Chinese, where the fruit originated, and in Chinese means “golden orange.”

When choosing them at a store, give them a gentle squeeze. Choose plump, firm fruit that are fully orange, with no green. You can refrigerate them for a couple of weeks when you get them home, but left out on the counter, they will lose quality after three or four days.

Besides snacking on them, you can use them in chutneys, marmalades, jams and jellies. Slice them into fruit salads and green salads. Add to stuffing for fowl or bake them into breakfast breads, pies, cakes and cookies. They can be candied, used as garnish for pork or chicken or sliced and steeped as a tea.

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Prepare the kumquats by quartering them lengthwise and removing the seeds, liquid and interior membrane, then slicing the peels into slender strips. Only then measure out the 2 cups. This recipe makes a delicious marmalade that you should keep refrigerated and use up within a few weeks.

Kumquat Marmalade

Makes about 2 pints

2 cups prepared kumquat strips

— Zest and juice of 1 lemon

½ cup white sugar

1 star anise

½ cup filtered water

Place the kumquats, lemon zest, strained lemon juice, sugar and star anise in a ceramic bowl, cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight so the mixture macerates.

Put the mixture into a non-reactive saucepan, add the water and bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture has reduced and thickened. A candy thermometer should read about 215 to 220 degrees. Or put a bit on a refrigerated plate. It should quickly become be a thick, spreadable marmalade.

Transfer the marmalade to an 8-ounce sterilized jar with a lid, let cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge and use before 2 to 4 weeks.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based food and garden writer. Reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.

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