Though quince is not the most popular in India, it used to be all the rage in ancient Greece and Rome. According to “The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts,” the fruits were seen as symbols of happiness, love and abundance, often given to the goddess Venus in tribute. A law was even passed under Solon’s rule mandating newly-weds to consume the fruits before consummating their marriage.
Origin of Quince
Quinces likely originated Northern Iran, followed by cultivation in Mesopotamia dispersing throughout Crete and beyond. Some botanists estimate that it was 4,000 years ago when Caucasus regions first cultivated quince commercially. Even today, these countries produce quince in high numbers. Turkey, for instance, remains the one of the largest grower of the fruits, second only to China. 2009 figures from the FAO reveal Uzbekistan, Morocco, Iran, Argentina and Azerbaijan as additional top producers.
Quince probably came to India when the Arabs were trading extensively with India circa 760 CE.
Availability of Quince in India
Quince is a temperate fruit growing in just a few area of India, namely Jammu and Kashmir. Limited production also occurs in Himachal Pradesh. Sir Walter Roper Lawrence extolled the quinces growing near the Dal Lake as far back as his 1895 book, “The Valley of Kashmir.” These regions are some of the only areas capable of growing the fruit, as quince requires periodic cold temperatures nearing 7 Celsius in order to flower with a warmer, temperate climate throughout the rest of the year.
According to the 2000 edition of “The Journal of the Indian Botanical Society,” Kashmir cultivates approximately 470 hectares of quince, mostly in the Baramulla and Budgam districts. These trees possess great genetic variability, holding promise for improved and refined varieties.
The season arrives in late fall—just as the surrounding trees slowly change colors, quince fruits go from brown to glorious yellow and herald their arrival with a fragrant, tropical smell.
Where to find Quince in India
Despite being unknown throughout the rest of the country, quince is common in Kashmir. Those frequenting the area during the autumn months are bound to stumble across these hardy fruits. In fact, most every Kashmiri has heard of quince based on its ubiquity in several regional dishes and stews. Quince is not shipped to many other parts of the country, making it rather difficult to find outside of these areas.
Checking for Ripeness in Quince
Quince is not shy when announcing that it’s ripe, as it emits an unmistakable, heavenly aroma with notes of citrus, pineapple, vanilla and pear. Indeed, some buy quince only as an air freshener for their kitchens or sitting rooms.
Its skin glows golden yellow and develops a fuzzy peach-like texture when ripe. The longer one waits for the fruit to ripen on the tree, the tastier it will be. Most producers pick quince slightly greenish-yellow underripe for shipping and distribution purposes, thereby contributing to its reputation as a poor-tasting fruit.
If purchasing from the market, find the most yellow-looking quince that’s also free of bruises. Secondly, choose the most aromatic fruit. Like pears, it’s unlikely to find perfectly smooth, blemish-free quince. A few marks are not problematic, but avoid fruits with obvious signs of rotting.
Taste of Quince
Quinces can be a bit like guava: immensely promising based on its powerful, glorious aroma, only to disappoint once bitten. Quince has a remarkably tough texture, making it nearly impossible to get a nibble of the dry fruit. These efforts to get even a small bite are not rewarded either, as the taste is astringent, tart, tannic and generally unpalatable.
Though California growers have managed to turn some varieties of quince into a soft, juicy and non-astringent fruit, such types are the exception and have not made their way to India’s soils.
Quince, like plantain, only comes alive when it’s cooked. When heated for a lengthy amount of time, its flesh turns a beautiful rosy color and becomes soft, tender, tangy yet mildly sweet from the concentrated sugars. Heating removes the bitter astringency of the fruit, making it significantly more palatable. Some cooking techniques also impart quince’s rich aroma into certain foods and drinks.
Nutritional Value of Quince
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of quince contains the following values:
15mg Carb (5% RDI)
2g Fiber (8% RDI)
.4g Protein (1% RDI)
40IU Vitamin A (1% RDI)
15mg Vitamin C (25% RDI)
Thiamin (1% RDI)
Riboflavin (2% RDI)
.2mg Niacin (1% RDI)
Vitamin B6 (2% RDI)
.7mg Iron (4% RDI)
8mg Magnesium (2% RDI)
17mg Phosphorous (2% RDI)
197mg Potassium (6% RDI)
.1mg Copper (6% RDI)
Health Benefits of Quince
Quince doesn’t make the papers as a wonder fruit like acai or noni, but it’s still packed with health benefits. According to “Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants,” quince is antivinous, astringent, a digestive, diuretic, cardiac, carminative, stimulant, tonic, peptic, coolant, and expectorant. It is used to treat sore throats, hemorrhages, intestinal problems, diarrhea, and a host of other stomach problems.
When gargled, the fruit treats mouth ulcers, bad breath and sore throats. Its high pectin content protects the body from harmful radiation effects, also contributing to the body’s circulatory system maintenance and blood pressure stabilization. Chinese herbal medicine also incorporates the bark as an astringent. In Iran and Afghanistan, boiled seeds treat pneumonia thanks to its mucilaginous properties. The seed’s mucilage also remedies burns and external wounds.
--A 2012 study published in Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences found that quince juice diminished inflammation in acute colitis, though more research is needed for particular dosages and administration to achieve these health benefits.
--According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, quince leaves are particularly effective as an antiproliferative in human colon cancer cells, and the seeds of the fruit showed similar effects on renal cancer cells. These studies conducted out of Portugal are the first of their kind that indicate quince as a potential chemopreventative.
--A 2009 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found quince pulp and peel have antioxidants capable of defending the red blood cell membrane from harmful free radicals.
--A 2009 study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry affirms quince’s use as an anti-allergy, as it’s capable of inhibiting certain types of allergic reactions.
--A 2007 report in the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry reveals that quince peels exhibit antimicrobial properties.
How to Open/Cut:
Peel quince before using in recipes, as this will reduce the fruit’s bitterness. Cutting a quince into slices and coring it is almost as difficult as cutting into pumpkin—it requires a large, sharp knife and a fair amount of leverage.
As a tip, keep the fingers as far away from the blade as possible: Use one hand for the handle of the knife, and use the palm of the other hand to place atop the blade and assist with the downward slicing motions. Fortunately, the small, black seeds are concentrated in the center of a fruit.
Store quince by wrapping in a paper towel and keeping in the refrigerator, where they keep for up to two months. Ideally, the refrigerator should be as dry as possible. Their aroma is known to permeate other fruits and impact the flavor—something to keep in mind when placing near, say, apples and pears.
Quince Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--The most simple fruit recipe is baked quince slices. Quarter the fruit and squeeze lemon juice atop the fruit to prevent browning. Sprinkle sugar, honey or agave, along with pouring a small amount of water in the baking tray to prevent drying. Cover in tin foil to keep in the moisture, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Take the foil off the fruit and bake for another 10 minutes.
--Make quince marmalade: as it happens, marmalade was originally made from this fruit, and not from oranges. The fruit’s pectin content makes it suitable for jams and preserves.
--A famous Spanish recipe is membrillo, which is a paste made from quince often served with cheese. To make membrillo, boil peeled, sliced and quartered quince for an hour or until soft. Add vanilla and lemon peel in the last ten minutes of boiling. Then, strain the quince and transfer to a food processor. Puree the concoction and transfer to a pot. Add sugar to equal ratios of quince puree (ie, one cup of sugar per cup of puree). Grease parchment paper and line it in a baking tray. Transfer the puree into the baking dish and bake at 125F for approximately one hour.
--Use quince as an apple or pear substitute in all baked goods recipes calling for these fruits. Quince works beautifully in tarte tatins and pies.
--Quince can also be used in savory dishes, such as “Kashmiri Bumthchoonth Wangun.” This is made by peeling and slicing quince, followed by sautéing it in Indian spices such as chili, garam masala, coriander, turmeric and fennel powder. Then, eggplant gets added to the mix. Fold in some (ideally non-dairy) yogurt paste, and then add some water and leave to simmer for 30 minutes or so. Simmering allows the fruit to become tender and marinate in the spices.
--A recipe mentioned in Vegetarian Times suggests adding baked quince to tagine recipes, as the mild sweetness complements the earthy spices of tagine beautifully.
--Infuse quince in alcohols such as rum and vodka to impart the gorgeous fragrance into the taste.
|Vegan quince curry from|
Apple, pear, orange, lemon, lime
Herbs, spices, and oil: tomato, potato, garlic, cumin, turmeric, chili, chickpea, cinnamon, cardamom, rose water, apple cider, saffron, honey, vanilla, rum, vodka, nutmeg, anise, rosemary, (vegan) dairy like cheese and cream
James Strong’s book, “Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature” suggests the fruit that toppled Eve’s resistance in the Garden of Eden was not the apple nor the pomegranate, but the quince.
In Turkish, “eating the quince” is slang for “getting in big trouble.”
Ancient Romans used quince as perfume, deodorant and breath fresheners.