The name quince derives from fruit that is found in the Mediterranean area, but has been applied to related fruits, including those growing in the Orient. Quince is an ancient fruit tree, whose centre of origin is a large area in Asia Minor and the Caucasus. Quince was cultivated for its fruits by the Greeks and Romans; the genus name for the Mediterranean plant, Cydonia, is the ancient name of the Crete town of Chania.
Chaenomeles refers to the fruit of the Chinese flowering quince, called mugua (wood fruit); it should not be confused with the item sold in oriental food markets as mugua which is ordinary papaya. Quince fruits are picked in late summer and autumn when they turn greenish-yellow; they are then blanched with boiling water, turning the skin a grey/white, then cut in half lengthwise and dried. The fresh fruits, which are very acidic and not edible raw, are used in making jams and jellies (sometimes with sweeter fruits, like apples).
Quince fruit is mentioned in mythology. The “golden apples” that Hercules stole from Zeus for his eleventh labour were quince The apple-like quince turns a golden yellow, but the species of apples present in the area at the time did not. The use of these “golden apples” as wedding gifts is a Greek custom: they were given to every Greek bride on her wedding day as a symbol of fertility and happiness. Due to its colour, fragrance and many seeds, the fruit was dedicated by the Greeks to Aphrodite (for the Romans: Venus), the goddess of love, and a symbol for beauty, love, fertility and a happy marriage. The eating of quince at weddings is said to be preparative of sweet and delightful days between the married persons.
The fruit has been prized ever since for its pretty pink flowers and strong fragrance and often described as a blend of tropical fruit with apple and pear notes and is powerful to freshen an entire room.
Quince fruits were first described in the Mingyi Bielu by Tao Hongjing in 500 AD. They are said to relax the tendons and muscles. This property was originally understood in relation to the ancient concept that the "sour taste softens the liver and thereby relaxes the tendons", which are considered under the control of the liver system. Quince is also considered a valuable therapy for moisture accumulation and stiffness accompanied by swelling and it can help alleviate indigestion.
As is the case with most sour fruits,
the quince contains several organic acids such as ascorbic, citric, malic, fumaric and tartaric. The active components responsible for treatment of pain, inflammation and spasm are thought to include saponins (glycosides), which also have antibacterial properties.
Studies have shown that extracts taken from quince, especially from the seeds, can kill the bacteria Escherichia coli and Enterobacter aerogenes.