Agri Leader

Kumquat fan numbers are growing in Florida and elsewhere

Here's something different you can do later this month - on Saturday, Jan. 25, Dade City will hold the 17th Annual Kumquat Festival.

Let me guess your reaction: "The WHAT festival?"

Kumquats originally came from China, and kumquats fans and growers like to call them the "golden gem" of the citrus business. Kumquats are no bigger than a very large grape or shelled walnut, and here's something different about them - you eat the whole fruit, peel and all, except for its tiny seeds. It's the only citrus fruit where you're supposed to eat the peel.

Just as the name implies, the 17th Annual Kumquat Festival fetes all things kumquat, including jellies, jams, smoothies, salsas and pies, said John Moors, executive director of the Dade City Chamber of Commerce. The festival is slated to attract 40,000 to 50,000 people this year. There will be many vendors featuring arts, crafts, a farmer's market, entertainment, children's activities, a car show, and, of course, plenty of kumquats. You can even meet kumquat pageant winners. Everyone is welcome, and it's free to attend.

"The demographic is definitely family friendly," said Moors, who noted that the festival also attracts snowbirds from larger retirement communities, such as Sun City Center and The Villages.

The festival takes place while kumquats are in season, which is from November to April, said Margie Neuhofer, one of the owners of Kumquat Growers, the company that's a driving force behind the festival and making Dade City the "Kumquat Capital of the World." Many people come to the festival still curious to know just what a kumquat is, said Neuhofer.

Kumquat Growers has 46 acres in Dade City dedicated to kumquat growing; although other people might own parts of the acreage, all of the product is sold to Kumquat Growers for distribution throughout the United States. The fruit has to be picked by hand or it can get damaged.

The festival is also an alternative to Tampa's massive Gasparilla Pirate Fest, which takes place on the same day, added Neuhofer.

Giving the golden gem a taste

In preparation for this story, I thought it'd be fun to buy kumquats and taste them. You can find them at larger supermarkets or specialty citrus stores open this time of year throughout the state. Kumquat Growers also has a gift shop where you can get a taste of kumquats and related products.

Although there are tart and sweet kumquats, most kumquat products are made with the tart kind, said Neuhofer.

I took a few kumquats out of the clamshell package, attracting attention from my dog, who probably thought the brightly colored small fruit was a new toy for him. Surprisingly, the peel is sweet, but the fruit itself is tart. I'm sure my face had a strange change of expressions as my taste buds experienced both flavors. Although I doubt that I'd buy them all the time, I can see how they'd be an occasional purchase to vary our fruit and vegetables for snacking or to use while cooking.

An article from Garden & Gun (a well-put together magazine although it's got a funny name) reported that kumquats are attracting the attention of chefs throughout the South, who use it to add a zing to winter dishes. The kumquat is a unique addition to certain salads, sauces and meat and seafood marinades, according to the article.