The quince fruit is in the same family as apples and pears. You will notice the family resemblance. The fruits look similar to a yellow pear with a light fuzz.
The tree and its fruit is thought to be native to Iran. Growing only in warm climates, it was once popular not only in the Middle East, but in Rome and Greece. Its scientific name is Cydonia oblonga and it is part of the Rosaceae family.
Quince fruits contain a large a large amount of pectin, which is the mucilaginous polysaccharide in ripe fruits that helps thicken and set jams and jellies, for which the quince was traditionally used.
The word marmalade comes from the Portugese marmalada which means “quince jam,” although today marmalade contains citrus or other fruits, depending on the region. The quince is not eaten raw because it has a high tannin content, making it very bitter. The bitter taste goes away with cooking.
Like apples and pears, the flesh of the quince oxidizes when exposed to air, turning brown, so if not cooked quickly it should be sprinkled with lemon juice or other citrus. When it is cooked, it is normal for the fruit to appear pink or red. Quince goes well with apples, pears, strawberries, and raspberries, and can be cooked and eaten peeled or unpeeled. It cooks up well, maintaining its shape, so that it can be used in pies rather than just fruit preserves, compotes, or the aforementioned jams and jellies.
In Europe, a paste made from quince called cotignac is popular, especially in Spain, where it is called dulce de membrillo. I is eaten in Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Near East.
Quince fruit was once more popular in the West than it is now. During colonial times, and even into the 1900’s, quince trees could be found growing in people’s yards, much like apple trees are found today. Keep in mind, however, that the quince fruit tree should not be confused with the flowering quince often used as an ornamental shrub.
The quince, like all of its relatives, is a type of fruit called a pome, which have a core that contains little seeds, unlike a stone fruit, or drupe, which contains one large pit. Interestingly, pome fruits like the quince, apple, pear, and loquats have the same common ancestor as stone fruits. They all branched off thousands of years ago from their parent, the rose.
Quince and jam image © ognianmed