December Means Citrus Splendor

Well, it’s December, and for those of us who are accustomed to the Northeastern climate, we know that this means we have to say goodbye to a lot of our favorite local produce. But don’t go into a seasonal depression just yet, because December does mean one very good thing: citrus splendor has just begun!

When I first began working at the Monadnock Food Co-op almost two years ago, I thought of citrus as, primarily, a flavoring agent. I would use the juice or the zest of oranges, lemons, and limes in many of my recipes to add acidity and brightness. It wasn’t until coming here that I realized the diversity of the citrus family. I hope that this winter I can get you excited about all the different citrus in our store.

Citrus fruit is something we take for granted; a staple of the Produce Department. I get confused reactions from customers when I see them looking at our wall of fruit and I offer a sample of an orange. An orange is an orange right? Wrong! Citrus is not always what meets the eye. Cara Cara Oranges, for example, resemble a common Navel Orange on the outside, but when you cut into them, you’ll notice a red/pink hue to the flesh, with the flavor of a refreshing ruby red grapefruit and tangy cranberries. Blood Oranges, to the untrained eye, sometimes look bruised, with muddled red to purple blotches on the outer rind. However, the inside is a rich purple color, with a vibrant, bitter taste. Pomelos, another deceptive citrus fruit, appear to be a large, under-ripe grapefruit, with a greenish-yellow rind. When cut into, you realize the rind is a lot thicker than expected, and the fruit on the inside is the color of a pink grapefruit, but with a much heartier texture. The flavor is mild, a great choice for a consumer looking for a less acidic fruit.

There are a plethora of health benefits from citrus fruits (which I’ll cover in my next blog post) so we could all stand to eat more of these tasty fruits! But too much of anything can get boring after a while, which is why you should keep an eye out for these unique varieties of citrus that we’ll be bringing in throughout the season.

Pink Lemons: Pink lemons really do exist. It’s not just a funny joke I’m trying to play on you about where pink lemonade comes from. Their outer skin has a greenish, variegated striping that fades as the fruit ripens. The inner flesh looks a lot like pink grapefruit. They are not a hybrid variety, but, in fact, a mutation of a variety of lemon known as “Eureka.” A funny coincidence, considering the mutation of the pink lemon was unintentional and discovered by surprise. Their flavor is certainly sweeter than regular lemons; they can be used as a substitute for a traditional lemon. They also make a beautiful garnish for food and cocktails.

Kumquats: My favorite citrus fruit is the Centennial Kumquat. What’s wonderful about them? You can eat the entire thing, skin and all, allowing you to reap all the health benefits of the fruit: from its juice in the flesh to the essential oils in the skin. There are several different varieties of kumquats ranging from very sweet to very sour. I find that the Centennial Kumquat has the thinnest skin, sweetest fruit, and although still bite-sized like all other kumquats, they tend to be a little bigger. Eat in place of candy, you won’t miss the sugar.

Buddha’s Hand Lemons: Buddha’s Hand Lemons are given as a religious offering in Buddhist temples as a symbol of happiness, longevity, and good fortune. They are also a common gift given on New Year’s. Said to have an overpowering sweet lemon aroma, they are also used in Asian cultures to perfume rooms. However unique looking with their gnarly fingers sticking out in all directions, you can actually eat them too! They do not contain juice, but are perfect for someone looking to make candied lemon peel, and their high levels of essential oils make them a good choice for infusing and extracting intense lemon flavor. Buy one and make a delicious lemon-infused vodka or sneak up on one of your friends with it and tell them it’s a Cthulhu Lemon, whichever you prefer!

Finger Limes: Another name for this funky fruit is “citrus caviar” because when you break the skin, the flesh pours out in little bead-like balls of juice! (These are called vesicles for anyone looking for the official term used to describe the pulp inside your citrus.) They come in a variety of colors from light green to bright pink, red, and purple. A popular use for this unique lime is using the beads as a garnish on top of seafood such as sushi or oysters on the half shell. They would also make a lovely topping for desserts, or an exotic addition to cocktails.

Makrut Limes: Formerly known as a Kaffir Lime, as the word Kaffir is an offensive term in some cultures. These fruits originated in Southeast Asia;  world-wide uses include candying, being used in curry pastes, and infused in rum. The leaves are also a widely used ingredient in many cuisines.

Mango Oranges: This citrus has a dark, coral-colored flesh with a “melt-in-your-mouth” texture. It is very low in acidity, with a mellow sweetness and a vanilla finish. Some describe it as having an orange creamsicle flavor. Some citrus fruits don’t need more than peeling and eating; mango oranges sound like a much healthier alternative to a late-night ice cream binge!

Pomelo: This citrus fruit goes under many names, including pomelo, pomello, pummelo, pommelo, pamplemousse, jabong, shaddick, or shaddock. For the remainder of this section, I’m going to refer to it as a Pamplemousse, because that is my new favorite word. The Pamplemousse is the largest member of the citrus family. They have a much thicker rind than any other variety of citrus. The flavor is that of a mild grapefruit, with a lower acidity. A good Pamplemousse feels heavier than it looks, indicating that it is very juicy inside.

I hope I’ve enticed you to come to our store and explore our variety of citrus fruits this year. Citrus season generally goes through March, so make it your New Year’s resolution to add some healthy zest to your life!