These sweet and juicy fruits are called ‘nesperas’ in the Algarve, and in Northern Portugal have the name ‘magnório’ or ‘magnólios’ and can be found growing wild in places or planted as ornamental trees. You may have seen some on the trees already, as they are just coming into fruit now, but blink, and they will be gone to the birds! They may have been originally from China as far back as the 16th century, or perhaps the Moors introduced them, or they may have been brought back by Portuguese explorers. But the wild birds are undoubtedly responsible for their propagation, as they will eat the fruit and drop the unwanted seeds as they fly away.

Large and Evergreen Trees

The trees themselves are evergreens, and have a short trunk and a large rounded canopy reaching 6m – 10m high. The fruits are round, oval or pear-shaped, and grow in clusters, normally ripening in April in the Algarve. Yellow to orange in colour, sometimes with a dark red blush depending on the cultivar, the fruits are only 2 – 5cm long, with a smooth, slightly downy feel. The skin of loquats is edible but the flavour lies inside, so you can remove the skin first if you wish. They are not popular for commercial growers, partly because of their flesh-‘pip’ ratio, and because the fruits soften at maturity, and do not keep well enough to be included in most commercial produce markets.

They have an unusual taste, a reminiscent blend of apricot, plum, peach, cherry and plum, slightly floral, and are sweet when ripe, delicious freshly picked or can be made into a tasty jam. A simple recipe only requires the fruits themselves, sugar and a little lemon juice in a two-to-one ratio of fruit to sugar. Nothing else is added – no pectin, no spices - and is as basic a recipe as it gets, which makes it perfect for beginners. The disadvantage is the fruits need to be peeled and de-seeded first, which is a time-consuming and fiddly process, but worth it in the end. They don’t have a long shelf life and bruise easily, so you need to harvest them to enjoy them as soon as they are ripe.

Traditional medicines

The fruits, seeds and leaves are full of powerful plant compounds and have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine. Research suggests that loquats may offer a wide range of health benefits, as they are high in nutrients, have numerous vitamins and minerals, are low-calorie, and reputedly contain 128g of carbs,1g of protein, and 3g of fibre per cup.

Credits: envato elements;

These fruits are said to contain anti-inflammatory properties and are particularly high in carotenoid antioxidants that can help protect from disease and enhance your immune system.

Ways to eat them

You can obviously just pick them and eat them, but you can add them to your diet paired with cheese or nuts as a snack, added to a fruit salad, or stewed with maple syrup and cinnamon as a sweet topping for oatmeal. Another method is to add them alongside spinach, Greek yogurt, avocado, coconut milk, and frozen banana in a smoothie, or combine them with peppers, tomatoes, and fresh herbs for a flavoursome salsa, or just juiced for cocktails and mocktails.

If you aren’t planning on enjoying loquats immediately, you can refrigerate them for up to 2 weeks, and they can also be dehydrated, canned, or frozen to extend their shelf life. But if you plan on picking them to eat fresh, beware, as the best fruits will be way above your head! If you pick them while yellow they’ll be a little tart and crisp, but perfectly edible. If you pick them when a golden orange colour the loquats will be sweet – just chew, and spit out the seeds as you would a watermelon.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan