By Ken Love
Scientific name: Eriobotrya japonica
Among the first cultivated fruit in Asia, the loquat is steeped in ancient Chinese mythology. For many years only the Chinese royalty was allowed to eat the fruit, as it was thought that loquat fruit falling into the rivers gave the koi, or carp, the strength and desire to swim against current and up waterfalls and be turned into mythical dragons. The fruit was introduced from China to Japan as early as 700. In 914 the first Chinese medical textbook was translated to Japanese and mentioned how to use loquat to obtain clear lungs. Japanese law books in the early 900’s stated the proper way to present loquat as an offering to the Shinto Gods. In Hawaii, loquat is sometimes called pipa (Chinese) or biwa (Japanese).
Arguably, loquat is one of the most popular fruits in the world. It was grown in Europe in the early 1700’s. In 1699 the fruit first appeared in Spain, which along with China and Japan, are the worlds largest commercial producers. Loquat is also very popular in the Middle East, India, South America and South Africa.
The fruit may have been introduced to Hawaii as early as 1787 with Chinese visitors. In 1831, Dr. FJF Meyen wrote of hearing about a Chinese settlement on Maui prior to Captain Cooks’ arrival. Loquat was found in the yards of many of Hawaii’s first Asian immigrants.
There are over 900 loquat cultivars with research being conducted in many growing areas around the world. In Hawaii common varieties are ‘Tanaka’, ‘Gold Nugget’, ‘Mammoth’, ‘Advance’ and ‘Wolf’. Varieties introduced in the 1990’s from Japan include ‘Obusa’, ‘Fusahikari’ and ‘Mizuho’. Many older wild loquat trees in Hawaii are thought to be seedlings and produce small inferior fruit. These trees can be top worked and grafted with newer varieties. A new seedless variety, called Kibou, was developed in 2003 in Chiba Japan but has not yet been released to growers.
A sub-tropical tree, the loquat is well adapted to Hawaii’s wide range of climates. It prefers upper elevations from 1000 to 5000 feet but is often found grown at lower elevations as an ornamental. Loquat leaves are sometimes used as fodder or made into tea. The fruit is susceptible to sunburn at lower elevations. The tree is tolerant to most soils with good drainage. Salt spray can cause leaf drop.
Loquat grows rapidly and needs frequent pruning to keep it manageable and facilitate harvesting. The tree has a shallow root system and may require irrigation at lower elevations. Trees at the 12 Trees Project site, at 430-foot elevation, are given 15 minutes of water daily with a 1/2-gallon per hour emitter. The tree is a heavy feeder and requirements for fertilizer vary greatly depending on location. Generally, in Hawaii, a 1/2 pound of 6-6-6- fertilizer applied evenly spaced 4 times per year to mature trees will ensure good fruit growth. Loquat can be pruned as an espalier or kept low to the ground. Multiple branches on new growth are removed leaving only the top and bottom branches.
Branches can be tied down to
keep trees low.
In Asia, a number of techniques are used to produce large fruit with high quality. As flowers develop, they should be thinned to 3 bottom stalks (racemes). Depending on the variety, only 3 to 5 fruit are left on each panicle. The fruit should be covered to protect it from fruit fly and to slow coloration. Double bags used in Japan reduce light from reaching the fruit for 80% of fruit development. When that is reached, the outer bag is removed; leaving the inner bag that permits 60% of the light to reach the fruit. Most loquats turn from green to yellow to light orange when ripe.
In general, loquat flowers and fruits in Hawaii earlier than other growing locations, from late November through April, with peak production in January and February.
Pests and Diseases
Loquat is a fruit fly host. In addition to the protective wrapping, following the Hawaii Areawide Fruit Fly Pest Management Program (HAW-FLYPM) is highly advisable. The tree is also susceptible to nematodes. Good sanitation should be practiced. Green scale (Coccus viridis) can also affect the plants. Loquat can be affected by fire blight, (Erwinia amylovora), and damaged wood should be removed and disposed of.
Loquat is not true to seed but is easily grafted. Older trees can be top worked to change the variety. Scions for grafting should be from two year old wood taken 3 to 4 months before the tree usually produces fruit. Air layering also works well with loquat.
Harvesting and Yield
Loquat is very fragile and should be packaged in field while harvesting. The fruit should be picked when orange colored. Fruit stems should be cut close to the fruit and not pulled off. Trees can produce from 100 pounds to 300 pounds of fruit per season. A mature Gold Nugget loquat tree in South Kona, covering a 20 x 25 foot area at a height of 12 feet, at 1800-foot elevation, produced 300 pounds of marketable fruit.
Bruised and sunburned fruit can be used
in value added products such as jam.
Loquat can be kept in cold storage for 2 months with little damage. In grocery stores it should be kept in chilled areas of the produce section to insure quality.
Cost of Production
The project loquat tree produced an annual marketable yield of 190 pounds. The average market price was $3.75 per pound, and therefore the tree generated a gross revenue of $712.50 for the year. Growing costs (fertilization, irrigation, pruning and all weed and pest control) amounted to $148.87, and harvesting costs (picking, packing and delivery to market) totaled $157.90. (All labor to grow and harvest the loquats was assumed to be paid at an hourly wage rate of $16.00, including withholding, FICA and benefits.) Thus, the total annual operating costs, sometimes referred to as “variable costs,” were $306.77. The gross margin (gross revenue minus all operating costs) was $405.73.
The loquat gross margin is the amount of money available to pay all the ownership costs associated with the loquat enterprise. Ownership costs, sometimes referred to as “fixed costs,” include the value of land used (rent or rent equivalent or mortgage and property taxes), the value of the capital investment (such as the tree establishment cost and buildings and vehicles), the value of the management, and the value of any unpaid labor. (All paid labor is already included in the gross margin.) Ownership costs, unlike operating costs, will vary substantially from farm to farm and will depend largely on how the farming operation is financed and on economies of scale. Each grower will have to calculate his total farm ownership costs and then allocate an appropriate portion of these costs to each enterprise on the farm. Now the profitability of the loquat enterprise can be determined by subtracting the loquat enterprise’s share of the total ownership costs from the gross margin for loquats.
The cost and return data are what was obtained from the 12 Trees Project site and other locations. Yields and costs were based on optimal growing conditions for one or more trees at various locations; different results will be obtained under different growing conditions. The prices used were actually obtained in 2005 and 2006. There is no guarantee that these prices will continue, especially if production increases significantly. These costs and returns are simply a starting point for growers to make their own estimates.
Packaging, Pricing and Marketing
Loquat is packaged differently for hotel and restaurant markets than it is for grocery or sales at farmers markets. The fruit should be packaged so that it does not touch other fruit, which causes bruising and discoloration. Fruit size can vary greatly and same sized fruit should be packaged together. Current wholesale prices in Hawaii depend on fruit size and can range from $2.00 per pound to $3.50 a pound or more. Retail prices in Japan for top quality fruit can be as high as US $50. for 12 fruit. Loquat is a popular fruit with hotel chefs who wish to feature it both as fresh and in various recipes. Loquat can used in many value added products. The fruit is the main ingredient in over 1000 food products in Japan and is often the featured topic on cooking TV shows.
Food Uses and Nutrition
Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion *
Protein 0.43-1.4 g
Fat 0.64- 0.7 g
Carbohydrates 11- 43.3 g
Calcium 9- 70 mg
Iron 0.14mg –1.4mg
Phosphorus 11-126 mg
Potassium 185- 1,216 mg
Vitamin A 1122- 2,340 I.U.
Ascorbic Acid 0-3 mg
* Ranges vary greatly due to degree of ripeness of fruit tested.
Health Benefits- Loquat is a good source of Vitamin A. Just a few fruit can provide up to 1/2 the daily recommended allowance. Vitamin A is important to visual and dental health. For thousands of years, the Chinese used extract from loquat leaves as an important ingredient for lung ailments.
Poha Loquat Salsa
By Vince Mott and Ann Rothstein
Hawaii Community College - West Hawaii Culinary Arts Program
3 lbs poha cut in half
1 lb loquat peeled and seeded
3 small mangos diced
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 red bell pepper minced
3 Anaheim chilies roasted and diced
1 Kona Rangpur lime - juiced
3 slices fresh ginger
Zest of 1 tangerine
2 cups sake
6 cups water
1 Tbl lilikoi puree
1 Tbl olive oil
1 pinch salt
Cook loquats in simple syrup then cut and dice.
Save syrup to flavor salsa
Mix with cut fruit
Add lime juice to taste
Is funded by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) USDA-CSREES competitive grants program. Fifty-four Hawaii Island chefs, fruit buyers and growers were invited to select the types of fruit they would like to see commercially available, based on their desire to utilize the fruit in culinary applications. In selecting the final 12 fruits, considerations were given to seasonality and harvest times so that the availability of harvested fruit and on-farm labor needs were spread out over the year.
Fruit trees were planted and brought into production at a demonstration orchard at the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative on Napoopoo Road in the South Kona District. During the course of the three-year project, fruit from this orchard, as well as additional fruit purchased from area farmers, were donated to the West Hawaii Community College culinary school. Culinary student chefs developed recipes to be published on the project web site < http://www.hawaiifruit.net/12trees.html> and in a book in the final year of the project. Members of the cooperative as well as members of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers - West Hawaii association and any other interested growers were encouraged to plant these trees. The goals of this project were to increase profitable agricultural diversification and to develop a consistently high quality, year-around supply of tropical fruit for local markets.
References and Further Reading
Popenoe W. 1920. Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits. The Macmillan Company
Morton, Julia F., 1987. Fruits of Warm Climates
Hawaii Areawide Fruit Fly Pest Management Program (HAW-FLYPM)
The author is grateful to Drs. R. Bowen, B. Brunner, K Fleming, R. Paull and F. Zee for their valuable contributions to this manuscript.