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The níspero, or how most of you might know it by the Dominican “loquat,” is a small seasonal fruit that is brown-skinned with a reddish pulp and long black seeds. This fruit is soft and very sweet with a distinctive flavor, while its flesh has a unique texture and can be peeled and eaten right of the tree. This tropical fruit contains 14 percent sugar which makes it great for making jams and preserves. When we eat fruit or any type of food for that matter, we don’t think about the numerous properties it has or the multiple benefits that can contribute to our body and health; we just eat it because we enjoy the flavor.
The níspero is a fruit of Japanese origin and depending on where it grows you will be able to see variations on how it looks. For example, here in the Dominican Republic, it’s brown with a textured skin, while in Japan, its has a yellow to orange colored-skin that is fuzzy but smooth. One of the advantages of consuming this fruit during the summer season is that it has a high water content in addition to various essential vitamins. It has antioxidant properties, as well as soluble fiber (pectins), tannins, astringent substances and numerous aromatic substances such as organic acids (citric, tartaric and malic) in its pulp. Although rich in sugar, it is low in calories (with about fifty per one-hundred grams). It also has potassium and – in smaller quantity – magnesium, calcium and iron, as well as small amounts of vitamins B and C.
It is said that the first tree of loquat was brought by Columbus and can be found in the Santo Cerro, La Vega. It is a historical tree, but it is not only cultivated there, it can be found in different regions of the country— even here in Altos de Chavón. Its botanical denomination is Manilkara zapota or achra zaporta and belongs to the family of Sapotaceas, in which are the Mamey or Zapote. There are common names: Chicozapote, Níspero, Chico, Sapodilla, and Sapoti. It reaches about 20 meters in length with very low, rough branches. The leaves are sharp at the apex, thick, with the top dark green and shiny, and its flowers are white.
Níspero juice is used to make syrup or the pulp is added when baking for flavor. From the fruit, you can make made jams, preserves, tarts, soft drinks, wines and milk shakes! If you have a sweet tooth like we do, you might want to try making a níspero jam or preserve; see below for ideas from The Old Farmers Almanac . We hear that instead of adding lemon to the preserve, some people add rum… Enjoy!
- Wash and remove the stems or cores, if any. Peel the fruit, if necessary. Remember: for jams, cut up or mash the fruit. For preserves, use whole fruits or cut them into large chunks.
- Make jam or preserves in small batches. This way, the fruit will cook quickly and the color and flavor will be better preserved.
- For every cup of fruit, add ¾ cup of sugar. (Note: four cups of fruit makes a very manageable batch, so you would need 3 cups of sugar)
- If you are using ripe or particularly sweet fruit, add 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice. The acid from the lemon juice will help the jam or preserve thicken.
- Scorching is more likely to happen to jams and preserves, so in order to avoid that dilemma, stir your mixture often for 15-40 minutes, depending on the fruit. Scorching can ruin an otherwise delicious jam or preserve but is very easy to prevent.
- To test your jam or preserve to see if it’s done, take a spoonful out of your kettle, and if it holds its shape after about a minute, your jam or preserve is ready to jar.