There are no animal ingredients in quince paste itself, making it a vegan dessert. Quince paste, also called quince cheese or membrillo, is a fruit paste originating from the Iberian Peninsula. It can be served alone, in tarts or pastries, or with cheese as is popular in Spain.
Though quince paste is popular around Spain and in South America, it’s not well known in other regions. A unique confection made from pale yellow fruit that turns red when heated, here we’ll explore the details of making, storing, and using quince paste in your vegan kitchen.
What Is Quince Paste Made From
Quince paste is mainly made of quince fruit pulp, water, and sugar, but many recipes add ingredients like lemon zest, lime juice, and vanilla. A popular snack in South American and Iberian countries is quince paste with cheese and crackers.
Quince is a tree fruit that looks like a pear or an apple. Quince is in season in the fall when mature fruit is bright yellow. Inside, the fruit is a neutral tan. Raw from the tree, it’s quite bitter and unpalatable but once cooked it becomes edible.
Native to the Iran, Turkey, and Greece region, quince fruit isn’t farmed in many countries globally and is hard to come by at the grocery store. However, quince paste can be found at some supermarkets such as Whole Foods or global markets. It can also be found online, at World Market or Amazon.
How is Quince Paste Made
While quince paste can be found in some supermarkets, if you’re able to find fresh quince (from a backyard tree or at a specialty market) you can make it yourself. Quince paste can be made on the stove or in a pressure cooker. The steps below are a simple outline for preparing quince paste on a stovetop.
- Peel, core, and chop the fruit.
- On the stovetop, add water to a large pot with the quince to cover the fruit.
- Add any extras like lemon juice or vanilla, then bring the mix to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and leave the quince to soften (30 -60 minutes).
- Once soft, strain the fruit and let cool.
- Use a blender or food processor to make a quince purée.
- Measure the amount of purée (ex. 2 cups), then put in a pot on the stovetop.
- Add an equal amount of sugar (ex. 2 cups) for sweeter quince paste, three-fourths (1 1/2 cups) or half the sugar (1 cup) for a milder sweetness.
- On medium-low, stir the quince purée and sugar together until disolved. You can also add lemon juice during this step if desired.
- Continue cooking at a low heat and stirring occasionally until a paste forms, coming away from the edges of the pot. The color should change from pale tan to a red-orange brick color.
- Pour into a dish to cool. It is now ready to serve.
Some variations of preparing quince paste include steaming the fruit instead of boiling and accelerating the drying process by putting the paste in the oven at a low temperature before letting it cool.
Should Quince Paste Be Refrigerated
Quince paste can be stored in either the pantry or the refrigerator. Most store-bought quince pastes will recommend refrigerating after opening the package. Fresh-made quince paste can be wrapped in parchment or wax paper and placed in a sealed container in the fridge for 3 months or longer. In the freezer, quince paste can last up to a year.
Some recommend storing quince paste at a cool room temperature as it may crystallize in the fridge. If this occurs, put it in the microwave briefly. Similar to a jam, the main concern with storing quince paste is drying out or mold developing, but this is rare. Due to the sugar content, quince paste can be stored for many months without worry.
Why Is Quince Paste Dark
Even though fresh quince fruit is pale yellow, quince paste is red. This is because of the interaction between anthocyanins and tannins. Anthocyanins are pigments in plants making them blue, red, or purple. Tannins are biomolecules (found in wine, tea, dark chocolate, and some fruits) that give quince fruit their bitter taste.
Tannins bind together with anthocyanins blocking their pigment and keeping the fruit looking plain and work (along with the bitterness) to keep animals away. Tannins are broken down by heat and acid. So when quince fruit is boiled along with lemon juice, the tannins break down allowing the anthocyanins to release their pigment.
The now reddish paste is sweet in the absence of the bitter tannins. When the tannins are broken down, pectin (a gelatinous carbohydrate in ripe fruit that acts as a setting agent for jams) also gets released. This helps the quince fruit form into a paste.
Quince Paste Dishes
Quince paste is vegan, but it is often served with cheese or put in non-vegan desserts. It can also appear on toast or sandwiches, in cakes, or as a side with breakfast. You can certainly eat it with vegan cheese or vegan charcuterie board to replicate the traditional serving. Otherwise, you can eat it plain (roll in sugar to eat as a candy) or on crackers.
If you’re looking to use quince paste in a vegan recipe, try making these quince jelly thumbprint cookies similar to thumbprint cookies made with apricot or raspberry jam. For a more adventurous treat, try out this gluten-free vegan quince, pistachio, oat, quinoa crumble.