Oddly enough if you ever visit the island of Corfu in Greece you will see oddly shaped gleaming bottles of liqueur made from an exotic fruit that hails from China. The liqueur is made from Kumquats which found their way from China into Europe some time in the late 18th century. It has been mostly cultivated in Corfu since 1924 in the valley of Nymfes, near Platonas village, to the north part of Corfu. The fertile soil, abundant water and mild climate are factors that have favored its growth and there are now about 6,000 trees on the whole island.
Kumquats belong to the Fortunella family of plants and look like a small oval orange about the size of an olive. They are native to China and the earliest historical reference appears in Chinese literature in the 12th century.
The genus is named in honor of Robert Fortune (1812-1880) - a Scotsman sent by the British Horticultural Society to collect an assortment of curiosities in China. He became proficient in the Mandarin language and managed to disguise himself as peasant so well that he was able to travel to forbidden places unchallenged. Fortune made four trips to China and one to Japan and smuggled China's highly coveted tea cultivars and growing techniques to the Indian Himalayas, thereby diminishing China's lucrative monopoly. He kept careful journals of his collections and observations and is credited with introducing the art of bonsai to the Western world. He introduced the Kumquat, to England in 1846.
Kumquats are much hardier than oranges and can withstand frost down to about −10°C without injury. They grow in the tea hills of Hunan, China, where the climate is too cold for other citrus fruits. Kumquats are often eaten raw. As the rind is sweet and the juicy centre is sour and salty, the raw fruit is usually consumed either whole—to savour the contrast—or only the rind is eaten.
Culinary uses include candying and kumquat preserves, marmalade, and jelly. Kumquats can also be sliced and added to salads. In recent years Kumquats have gained popularity as a garnish for cocktail beverages, including the martini as a replacement for the more familiar olive. The Cantonese often preserve kumquats in salt or sugar. A batch of the fruit is buried in dry salt inside a glass jar. Over time, all the juice from the fruit is diffused into the salt. The fruit in the jar becomes shrunken, wrinkled, and dark brown in colour, and the salt combines with the juice to become a dark brown brine. A few salted kumquats with a few teaspoons of the brine/juice may be mixed with hot water to make a remedy for sore throats.