It is the largest toxin-free
grove in the United States.
She has almost 400 trees
and produces about
10,000 pounds of fruit a year.

"We use stainless steel
instead of aluminum
due to the potential link
between dietary aluminum consumption and increased
risk for alzheimer’s.
We use BPA-free plastic
or glass because BPA
has been implicated
as a link to breast and
prostate cancer as well as
behavioral disorders
in children.”

Laurie Gutstein

The calamondin is
an intergenetic hybrid
between a manadarin
orange and a kumquat.

(left to right)
grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime,

Calamondin Jam

Calamondin Sea Salt


Crazy About Calamondins

by Carol DeFrank

ASK LAURIE GUTSTEIN, owner of the virtual Calamondin Cafe for a unique gift idea for a food snob and her prompt answer will be, “Anything calamondin”. Then she’ll elaborate. “If they’re a cook give them fresh fruit, puree or coulis; if they like sweets they’ll appreciate a calamondin cake; if they like marmalade they’ll love calamondin jam; or you can just give them a calamondin tree.”

The Calamondin Cafe is a virtual cafe, Gutstein explains. “We are a ‘dirt-to-dessert’ artisanal company where everything is done the old fashion way — manually. We hand plant the trees, hand pick the fruit and separate the stem and the seeds by hand.

Gutstein gives her father credit for her successful business. “About 25 years ago my father’s friend Jack Spencer introduced him to the fruit by giving him a jar of homemade calamondin jam. Dad loved it and decided to make his own. The local grocery didn’t carry the fruit so he planted a tree in his yard. Although it’s an ornamental tree with striking foliage used often in landscaping, his mission was to harvest the fruit to make jam. And he did. I lived in Maryland at the time. He sent me several jars from that first batch and I was hooked. From then on, every winter, the jam arrived at my home like clockwork.”

Her father continued to make the jam until 2008 when, during the cooking process, he burnt the sugar. “Mom said it was time for me to carry on the tradition because she was forcing Dad into calamondin retirement.”

Gutstein enjoyed making the jam and, like her father, gave jars to all of her friends. They said it was so good she should start selling it. “But I just kept making it and giving it away, until I tasted a cake Jack’s wife, Joy baked. That was my aha moment. I instantly visualized a little company that could.”

She began by researching possible competition but soon discovered there wasn’t any. “At that point it was a no brainer,” she said. “I wanted to share the calamondin experience with the rest of the world. I felt it was time. And, if it worked out like I planned, my pension would be in place.”

She worried about a pension because she is a physician by trade, therefore responsible for creating her own retirement. In an effort to secure her future, 15 years ago she her brother David, also a doctor, purchased 271/2 acres of land on Pine Island and in Lehigh Acres. They used 25 of the acres to grow and sell palm trees. It was a viable business until 2008 when the real estate market collapsed. The palm tree venture fell flat as part of the domino effect that ensued.

So, the obvious thing to do with the two and a half acres not being used was to plant calamondin trees. In 2011, when the trees were ready to harvest, the Calamondin Cafe was born. Currently she has almost 400 trees and produces about 10,000 pounds of fruit with only nine part time employees. It is the largest toxin free grove in the United States.

“I don’t consider this a start up company, I consider it an industry,” Gutstein says. “It was and still is the only calamondin company in the world that sells consumable products made from this fruit.”

The calamondin is a small fruit, about the size of a walnut. Fully ripened it is sour but mellows when processed. Gutstein says It tastes like a tart tangerine with overlying flavors of orange, lemon, apricot, pineapple and guava. The skin adds sweetness and antioxidants so it’s used in the processing of the puree adding healthy benefits to the consumers. Like an orange, it is high in vitamin C.

It originated in Asia and is an intergenetic hybrid between a member of the genus citrus (probably the mandarin orange) and the kumquat. It found its way to Florida over 100 years ago via Panama. In the Philippines, where it is extremely popular, it’s picked green (unripe) and used mostly to season foods. In the United States the fruit stays on the tree until fully ripe and turns orange.

The tree is sensitive to the cold, therefore thrives in warm states such as Florida, California, Hawaii, and parts of southern Texas.The tree takes two to three years to bear fruit and may live for more than 40 years. It’s an attractive tree that sprouts white or purplish flowers and grows between nine and 19 feet.
The fruit has many health benefits. As a doctor, Gutstein feels that it’s important to create awareness of toxins used in growing, cleaning and even shipping citrus fruits. She also considers it important to inform the public of the advantages of consuming products grown with organic pesticides and produced in a toxin free environment.

In an added effort to keep their products organic they tout totally toxin-free kitchen practices. “We use stainless steel instead of aluminum due to the potential link between dietary aluminum consumption and increased risk for alzheimer’s. We use BPA-free plastic or glass because BPA has been implicated as a link to breast and prostate cancer as well as behavioral disorders in children. Our ingredient list is short but includes only quality products and we go so far as to make sure even our packaging is BPA free.”

Gutstein isn’t influenced by profit when it comes to toxins. “We decided not to ship out of the country because USDA rules said we would have to dip the fruit in one of three fungicides that we consider toxic. After going through all the hoops to keep our product as pure as possible we couldn’t allow that to happen so we settled on shipping only within the United States for the time being.”

The production of all the calamondin products take place in a dedicated room inside Cameron’s British Foods. The gluten-free cakes are made in a gluten-free kitchen at Lisa’s Gluten-Free Bakery in Naples.

Calamondin Cafe sells puree, extract and juices from the fruit. They also sell cakes, jams, candied peel, sea salt, coulis, and trees. “When customers ask for seeds, we tell them they are attractively packaged in the fruit.“

While palm trees sales are up again, Gutstein’s long term plan is to eventually replace them with calamondin trees. “But for now. the division of the two species of trees is fine. It serves the need of our current customer base.”

Gutstein is looking forward to a bright and lucrative future. “We are working on or improving several ideas. We have a wedding cake package in place and are getting ready to market it to bakeries. We accidentally discovered that, because of its intense flavor, chemo patients will eat calamondin baked goods when nothing else appeals to them, so we developed and plan to expand upon a chemo package dubbed the Cheer Up Program. And there are several breweries experimenting with calamondins aspiring to develop a great tasting beer.”

But Gutstein doesn’t want to spread the company too thin. “We have no desire to be a venture capitalist. I’ve seen many organizations grow like gang busters only to disappear in a year or two. That being said, if we are lucky enough to acquire a huge account or a brewery finds the perfect recipe for a calamondin beverage, everything is in place to enable the company to expand as needed.”

Whatever happens Gutstein is confident that she will still be in business five years from now. “We could still be local or may grow into a national or even international company? Only time will tell. But whatever we are we will still have a presence and that’s what’s important. I planted a grove not a tree. I made a commitment.”

Gutstein shared a few Calamondin serving suggestions; Add a teaspoon per serving to fruit salad or to oatmeal, mix 50/50 with Horseradish sauce for a shrimp dip, bake over the top of chicken, fish, or pork, use inside or out on baked brie, mix into whipped creme with a touch of powdered sugar, add to waffles, pancakes, scones, or mix it into Greek yogurt. It also works beautifully with chocolate mousse, flourless chocolate cake or poured over ice cream and pound cake.

In addition to their on-line store at calamondincafe.com, Gutstein sells products locally. “We are at the farmers market in Naples (3rd Street) on Friday, Sanibel on Sundays, and Lakes Park in Fort Myers on Wednesdays.” •

March-April 2017