Grow Your Own: How to Make Homemade Loquat Soda

Photo by Ryan Benoit

Feeling that Seis de Mayo slump? Yesterday, after one mezcal cocktail too many, we switched to the virgin stuff — and ended up making a loquat soda to restore and steady our souls for the week ahead. Luckily, loquats are abundantly in season right now.

The loquats in our yard.

Loquats have firm flesh and a thrilling, jaw-freezing tartness.

The fruits — egg-shaped, walnut-sized, with freckled, dark yellow skin when ripe — hang from the young tree in our yard and from trees all around the neighborhood, including branches that droop over public sidewalks, inviting you to forage them on the fly.

They’re everywhere in coastal California right now.

eriobotrya-japonica-loquat-treeRMB_0905

Loquat trees are often grown ornamentally, and their yummy subtropical fruits go uneaten.

loquat tree

According to an ancient Chinese legend, a carp turned into a dragon after eating a loquat. As a result, common people were forbidden from eating the fruit.

Known officially as Eriobotrya japonica, loquats are native to China and also grow abundantly in Japan. They swell from tiny white flowers that are like catnip for pollinators. In Asia, the fruits are used in cough syrup, and leaves are used to treat skin problems and digestive and respiratory issues.

Loquats are delicious right off the stem; peel them to reveal flesh that tastes tangy, slightly apricot-ish, with the bright sweetness of a very ripe pear. They also remind C of quenepas (which she used to eat on the beach in the Caribbean and also buy at fruit stands during the summer in Manhattan), another juicy gem with purse appeal and a hard center.

eriobotrya-japonica-loquat-treeRMB_0769-ryanbenoitphoto-thehorticult

RB plucks some fruit in our yard.

eriobotrya-japonica-loquat-treeRMB_0832-ryanbenoitphoto-thehorticult

You’ll find loquats of wildly differing ripeness levels on the same branch. Ripeness even varies across the individual fruit; the sides that get the most sun are the sweetest.

We picked some loquats from our tree last week. Then we walked down the street to ask our neighbor if we could harvest some from the woolly branches in his front yard. Maybe he just couldn’t say no to a couple of kids with an eight-foot-tall fruit picker? Who knows. In any case, he gave the okay and we went to town.

eriobotrya-japonica-loquat-treeRMB_0821-ryanbenoitphoto-thehorticult

Nearby, this mature tree was a loquat goldmine.

eriobotrya-japonica-loquat-treeRMB_0828-ryanbenoitphoto-thehorticult

Sidewalk foraging is easier than you think, and a good way to meet the neighbors.

Picking a ripe loquat is tricky because you’re likely to find fruits at five or six different levels of ripeness growing in the same bunch (the featured image at the very top shows the full ripeness spectrum in effect). We took them home and sorted the ripe fruits from the green ones from the squished, shriveled, inedible ones. Finally, we got to work making the loquat syrup that would end up in our soda.

Homemade Loquat Soda

Ingredients:

1 pound ripe loquats

¾ cup sugar

sparkling mineral water or club soda

mint sprigs for garnish

eriobotrya-japonica-loquat-treeRMB_0841-ryanbenoitphoto-thehorticult

These guys made the cut.

eriobotrya-japonica-loquat-treeRMB_0847-ryanbenoitphoto-thehorticult

These…did not.

Method:

1. Wash and slice loquats.

2. Peel about half the fruits, leaving the rest with skins on.

3. Run fruits through juice extractor.

washing loquat fruits

Leaving the skins on some of the fruit will give the syrup (and the soda) an extra tanginess.

eriobotrya-japonica-loquat-treeeriobotrya-japonica-loquat-treeRMB_0866-ryanbenoitphoto-thehorticult

Steer clear of the seeds inside, which contain trace amounts of arsenic! Besides that, you’ll be fine.

For a radiant, golden syrup, pick loquats in the almost-ripe to just-ripe section of the spectrum.

4. Boil approximately 1 ½ cup juice on medium heat, adding sugar gradually.

5. Strain syrup through cheese cloth.

6. Allow syrup to cool, and refrigerate.

7. Pour 2 teaspoons syrup into an 8-ounce glass, and top with sparkling water.

8. Garnish with a mint sprig.

9. Recover.

loquat-soda-thehorticult-RMB_1251

Our healthy Seis de Mayo spritzer!