Quince fruit are a mystery, just waiting to be unlocked. They don’t exactly make it easy to reap their benefits. There are hints that the fruit holds a secret; when ripe, they have the inviting perfume of vanilla, pineapple, and citrus. They look like a mix between apples and pears, but don’t expect them to resemble their siblings in flavor, at least when eaten raw. They’re surrounded by a fuzzy exterior and, when bitten into, quince are unappealingly sour. The only way to truly get to their flavor is to cook them down.

This process can take a few hours, especially as the texture is tough and spongy, making it hard to cut through. Cooks will often warn to keep fingers safe when trying to battle through a quince’s interiors. Use a level surface and cut off the bottom if it wobbles around too much.

The produce isn’t an easy find, either. It’s commonly used in Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean, but in North America you’ll likely have to search specialty food stores or a local farmers market in the fall. Because it’s an autumn specialty, it also comes in handy for pairing with traditional Thanksgiving holiday spices, such as cinnamon and cardamom, in baking, such as in a crisp or as an added twist to apple pie, or in savory dishes, paired with butternut squash or other holiday flavors.

Despite the difficulties cutting it, finding it, and preparing it, the hard-won treasure is worth the effort. “(The cooking) brings out some of the natural sweetness,” says Kerri-Ann Jennings, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. “They can be fun to cook with.” The flesh becomes much more tender, and it changes from light yellow to a rosy pink.

Quince appear to be indigenous to the Eurasian area, including Uzbekistan, Armenia, Turkey, Hungary, and Macedonia. Organicfacts.net states that, “Historically, it may have played a much larger role than most people expect. Some researchers actually think that when apples were referenced in ancient history, they were more likely talking about quince, which were much more common in those areas.” They are suspected to be one of the fruits in the Garden of Eden, and they also appear in Greek mythology, especially in the story of the Trojan War. In ancient Athens, according to the laws of Solon, it was given to a bride as a symbol of fruitfulness.

The Eastern specialty also shows up in Islamic history. There are some hadith that report the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]) eating the fruit. Talhah narrated, “I entered upon the Prophet {PBUH]) and in his hand was some quince. He said, ‘Take it, O Talhah, for it soothes the heart.’” —Sunan Ibn Majah, Volume 4, Hadith 3369.

Although the hadith, and others similar to it, has a weak line of narration, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a renowned Muslim theologian, included a section on the product in his book Al-Tibb al-Nawawi, which focuses on Prophetic medicine. He also endorses the fruit for its benefits to the stomach and the heart. His recommendation was to cook it down with honey.

Nutritionist Farheen Farooq tries to tie in Prophetic foods in her recommendations if her clientele is Muslim. Even though the hadith about quince cannot be attributed to the Prophet (PBUH), the writing of al-Jawziyya gave Farooq a reason to give it a second look, and she doesn’t doubt that it has many benefits.

“Of course it has a lot of fiber because its skin is eaten,” she explains. “Any time where you have a fruit where you can eat the skin or the seeds, it’s automatically a good source of soluble fiber.” That fiber, of course, helps with digestion. “It adds bulk to your stool and is helpful for keeping people regular,” Jennings explains. “It’s also the type of fiber that’s linked to cholesterol-lowering benefits,” she adds. That’s how Farooq explains al-Jawziyya’s assertion that the produce benefits the stomach, the heart, and opens up blood passages. It also has a high vitamin C content.

Jennings said there has been historical use in powdered form as a tea to aid digestion. It also has high pectin content, which is why it’s traditionally used in jams and jellies. Pectin is a starch that occurs naturally in some produce, and when it’s cooked at a high temperature with sugar and acid, it forms into a gel. Pectin gives fruit its rigidity, and it makes sense that quince would have a high content, since it has a tough texture.

Because it has to be boiled down anyway, Spaniards use it in a dish called “membrillo,” a combination with sugar and lemon that becomes a dense paste, normally paired with Manchego cheese. The safarjal, as it’s called in Arabic, is also a staple with meats in several countries, such as with Moroccan tagines. As it’s become more popular and available in the West, chefs have included it in cuisine like compote for pancakes and in soups. Well then, this issue’s quince recipe might well be worth a try.

Nadia Malik holds a degree in journalism and is a former reporter for a Chicago-area newspaper. She has written for websites and publications and has also worked for several non-profit organizations. She is a current graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.


Quince is great for baking. See recipe on page 24.