Quince Fact File
Quince, or Cydonia Oblonga, is a small deciduous tree which grows natively in southwest Asia from 5-8m tall. The leaves of a quince tree are covered in tiny white hairs which grow from 6–11cm long. Once the leaves have blossomed in spring, the tree flowers with pale pink to white petals. When these flowers die, they are replaced with a very fragrant pale green, pear-like pome fruit. These ripen in autumn to a golden yellow (if it’s warm enough), and can grow up to 8cm long. Another type, the Chinese Quince Pseudocydonia Sinensis, is native to China and is slightly different to the Oblonga – the leaves are not covered in hair and the branches are slightly gnarled and contorted.
The quince fruit has been and is still used on a large scale as a food – when raw it is bitter-tasting, unless it has ripened properly in a much warmer country than England. However, the sour taste becomes sweet once mixed with salt water. There are endless recipes for quinces from jams to jelly and puddings to stews. Quinces can also be used to produce wine, brandy and juice. Quittensaft, a quince juice drink, is very popular in Germany. In Switzerland, ‘liqueur de coing’ is made from quince.
The quince has also become very popular as an ornamental plant – the Chaenomeles, which is closely related to the quince, is cultivated for Bonsai. The quince has also been used since ancient Greek times as an air freshener because of its strong, sweet fragrance. It’s also used to sweeten the breath – Greek brides used to nibble on a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber. The Romans ate the quince by cooking it with honey and leeks. Quinces are used in cosmetics as well – the seeds of the fruit are surrounded by a sticky substance which has been used as hair gel. Throughout history, the quince’s pits, seeds and fruit have been used medicinally to treat sore throats and relieve coughs, pneumonia, lung disease and intestinal discomfort.
Historians also believe that the quince was the fruit Eve was forbidden to eat in the Garden of Eden. It has therefore become symbolic for temptation. In the Garden of the Hesperides, the quince was thought of as the ‘golden apple’.