Posted by: oysterculture | March 28, 2009

The Best of Both Worlds (Citrus Part II)


blood oranges up close and personal
blood oranges up close and personal

Pucker Up, the first in this two part series on citrus took on a life of its own.  I started with what I thought was a simple concept, learn more about citrus, nothing extensive – little did I know what I would unearth.  I  had to split my post, and the fruits identified here are hybrids of the citrus identified in the first post.  I am waving the white flag of defeat, there is no way I can cover all the citrus – more varieties seem to develop every day.  In the writing of these posts I quenched my thirst for knowledge of the citrus that I saw in the market.  This curiousity was the impetus for this effort, and offered me the opportunity to break out my Harold McGee – On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, which was gathering dust on my nightstand.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Harold McGee, though I’ve never met him, his book appeals to my engineering side, but night time, leisure reading, this book is not.

Back to the citrus.  All citrus are of the single genus, Citrus, and is largely interbreedable, i.e prone to producing hybrids, with a single “super species” which includes grapefruits, lemons, limes and oranges.  Citrus fruit are considered berries because they have many seeds, are fleshy and soft, and derive from a single ovary.  


Are you surprised to find them here?  I was – I never thought of them as a hybrid, and they have gone on to produce even more incredible combinations.  An orange—specifically, the sweet orange is a hybrid of a pomelo and a tangerine.  (Given citrus fruits fondness for hybrids, scientists struggle to determine the correct lineage.)  Oranges are, by far the most common citrus, making up nearly 3/4 of all citrus produced.

Bit of trivia:  An orange seed is called a pip.

More trivia:  With oranges, color does not indicate ripeness, because the rinds may turn orange long before the oranges are ready to eat.  Tasting them is the only way to know whether they are ready to eat. 

Some languages name the orange after Portugal.  Examples are Bulgarian portokal [портокал], Greek portokali [πορτοκάλι], Persian porteghal [پرتقال], and Romanian portocală. Also in the Neapolitan dialect, orange is named portogallo or purtualle, literally “the Portuguese ones”. 

 Like all citrus fruits, oranges are acidic, with a pH level of around 2.5-3.  Although this is not as strong as the lemon,  it compares to vinegar.

Oranges for commercial production are grown throughout the world.  Oranges are sensitive to frost, and a common treatment to prevent frost damage when sub-freezing temperatures are expected, is to spray the trees with water, since as long as unfrozen water turns to ice on the trees’ branches, the ice that formed stays at the freezing point, giving protection even if air temperatures have dropped far lower.  Very clever, those citrus farmers.

Some languages have different words for the bitter and the sweet orange, such as Modern Greek nerantzi and portokali, respectively. Or in Persian, the words are narang and porteghal (Portugal), in the same order. The reason is that the sweet orange was brought from China or India to Europe during the 15th century by the Portuguese.  

 Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and Dutch sailors planted citrus trees along trade routes to prevent scurvy.  On his second voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the seeds of oranges, lemons and citrons to Haiti and the Caribbean.  Later, they were introduced in Florida (along with lemons) in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, and later Hawaii in 1792.

Some Orange Varieties

The Persian orange, grown widely in southern Europe after its introduction to Italy in the 11th century, was bitter. Sweet oranges brought to Europe in the 15th century from India by Portuguese traders, quickly displaced the bitter, and are the most common oranges cultivated. The sweet orange grows to different sizes and colors depending on local conditions 

A single mutation in 1820 in an orchard of sweet oranges planted at a monastery in Brazil gave us the navel orange, also known as the Washington, Riverside, or Bahie navel.  The mutation causes navel oranges to develop a second orange at the base of the original fruit, opposite the stem. The second orange develops as a conjoined twin in a set of smaller segments embedded within the peel of the larger orange.  From the outside, the fact that it resembled a human navel was enough to achieve its moniker.  Of all the varieties they have the best attributes to eating fresh: no seeds and easy to peel.  However, they are not the best for making juice as they lack the number of fruit esters found in their siblings, and their juice turns noticably bitter after about 30 minutes. The Valencia or Murcia orange is the sweet oranges used for juice. 

Because the mutation left the fruit seedless, and therefore, sterile, the only means to cultivate more of this new variety is to graft cuttings onto other varieties of citrus tree.  Today, navel oranges survive by cutting and grafting.  This method does not allow for the usual selective breeding methodologies, so not only are the navel oranges of today of  the same genetic makeup as the original tree, and are therefore clones.  Curiously, all navel oranges might be considered fruit of that single tree that produced the first fruit way back in 1820.

Juice and other orange products

 The outer-most layer of the rind can be grated or thinly veneered to produce orange zest.  Zest is popular in cooking because it contains the oil glands and has a strong flavour. The white part of the rind, called the pericarp or albedo and includes the pith, is a source of pectin and has nearly the same amount of vitamin C as the flesh. 

3 citrus based products in my kitchen
3 citrus based products in my kitchen

Orange products and trivia:

  • Orange juice is a commodity traded on the New York Board of Trade.  Brazil is the largest producer of orange juice in the world, followed by the USA.
  • Sweet orange oil flavors food and drink, and is used for fragrance
  • The orange blossom (state flower of Florida) is associated with good fortune, and was popular for weddings for some time.
  • The petals of orange blossom make a delicately citrus-scented version of rosewater.  Orange blossom water (aka orange flower water) is a common part of both French and Middle Eastern cuisines, and often used in desserts.
  • In Spain, fallen blossoms used to make tea.
  • In the United States, orange flower water makes delicious orange blossom scones.
  • Orange blossom honey is produced by putting beehives in the citrus groves during bloom
  • Marmalade is made from the Seville oranges, sometimes with some blood oranges thrown in for good measure
  • Gardeners use orange peel as a slug repellent.
  • Orange leaves can be boiled to make tea.

The Mandarin orange or mandarin (mandarine) is a small citrus tree with fruit resembling the orange. The fruit is oblate, rather than spherical. Mandarin oranges are usually eaten plain, or in fruit salads, and in the United States they are frequently canned.   The mandarin is easily peeled, and splits into segments without squirting juice, making it a socially acceptable citrus.

The Mandarin orange comes from the orange family.  Within the Mandarin orange family are tangerines, clemintines, and satsumas.  The mandarin has many names, some of which actually refer to crosses between the mandarin and another citrus fruit.  Most canned mandarins are of the Mikan variety (derived from miganin Chinese).  Clementines have displaced Mikans in many markets, and are becoming the most important commercial mandarin variety.

The tangor, which is also called the temple orange, is a cross between the mandarin and the common orange.  Its thick rind peels easily, and its bright orange pulp is sweet, full-flavored, and tart.  In Vietnam, it is called quýt hồng.

 The tangerine  is an orange-coloured citrus fruit hailing from the Mandarin orange.   The taste is often less tart than that of an orange.  They are firm to slightly soft, heavy for their size, and pebbly-skinned with no deep grooves, and orange in color.  Tangerine season is short, lasting from November to January in the Northern Hemisphere.

Tangerines have been cultivated for over 3,000 years in China and Japan. They did not reach Europe and North America, until the 19th century. The name tangerine comes from Tangier, Morocco, a port from which the first tangerines were shipped to Europe.

Tangerines are commonly peeled and eaten fresh, where they are either eaten plain, or used in salads, desserts and main dishes.  A popular alternative to tangerines are clementines, which are another variant of the mandarin oranges.

The tangelo is a hybrid between the pomelo and the tangerine. It has a thicker skin than a tangerine and is less sweet.

A clementine is a variety of mandarin orange named in 1902.  The exterior is a deep orange colour with a smooth skin. Clementines separate easily into juicy segments. They peel easily, like a tangerine, but typically lack the tangerine’s seeds.  Clementines lose their desirable seedless characteristic when bees cross-pollinate them with other fruit.  In early 2006 large growers in California threatened to sue local beekeepers for their bees’ trespass into clementine crop land.  

One story states the clementine was an accidental hybrid discovered by Father Clément Rodier in his orphanage’s garden in Misserghin, Algeria.   However, others claim it originated in China much earlier; known as the Canton mandarin widely grown in Guangxi and Guangdong Provinces in China.  The clementine are not always distinguished from other varieties of mandarin oranges, and Germans generally refer to them as Mandarine.  The clementine is also referred to as the Algerian tangerine.

Clementines, usually grown in Morocco and Spain, have been available in Europe for many years.  The harsh 1997 winter in Florida devastated domestic orange production, and increased prices, resulted in a market for celmenitnes  in the United States.  California clementines are available from mid-November through January, causing them to be referred to as “Christmas Oranges”.  Clementines are not to be confused with another citrus satsumas.

Citrus unshiu is a seedless, easy-peeling citrus of Chinese origin, and introduced to Western cultures via Japan.  In Japan, it is known as unshu mikan (Japanese: 温州蜜柑, unshū mikan). In China, it is known as Wenzhou migan (Chinese: 温州蜜柑; pinyin: Wēnzhōu Mìgān), as this is the place it originated some 2,400 years before.  The Japanese name means “Honey Citrus of Wenzhou”, and  is also known as “Seedless mandarin” (Chinese: 无核桔; pinyin: wúhé jú) or satsuma.   The Japanese have grown it since ancient times, and the majority of cultivars grown in China today were cultivated in Japan and reverse-introduced into China in 1916.  In the Meiji period, mikan were brought to the United States from the Satsuma Province in Kyūshū, Japan by a diplomatic spouse of the U.S. Embassy.  

The towns of Satsuma, Alabama, Satsuma, Florida and Satsuma, Louisiana were named after this fruit.  By 1920, Jackson County in Florida billed itself as the “Satsuma Capital of the World.”  It is planted in colder locations, because of its cold-hardiness and because colder weather will sweeten the fruit, with only the kumquat as more cold-hardy.  Satsumas are sweet and usually seedless, about the size of a mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata).  A distinguishing feature of the satsuma is the distinctive thin, leathery skin dotted with large and prominent oil glands, which is lightly attached around the fruit, allowing easy peeling compared to other citrus. 

Seville (Sour Oranges, Bitter Oranges or Bergamot)

Many varieties of bitter oranges are used for their essential oil, which is used in perfume and as a flavoring.  Other names for bitter orange include sour orange, bigarade orange, Bergamot and Seville orange.

A few varieties

  • It is used in marmalade and liqueurs such as Triple sec, Grand Marnier and Curaçao. It is also cultivated from the essential oil of the fruit and also used for neroli oil and orange flower water which is distilled from the blossoms.
  • Seville orange is a tart orange grown throughout the Mediterranean. It is prized for making marmalade, being higher in pectin than the sweet orange, and therefore giving a better set and a higher yield. It is also used in compotes and orange-flavored liqueurs.
  • Bergamot orange is cultivated in Italy to produce bergamot oil, a component of many perfumes and tea (Earl Grey being the most common).  It is a cross between a sour orange and a sweet lime.
  • Many more varieties exist, but the seville and the bergamot are two that you are most likely to encounter in your travels.

Southern Indian cuisine, especially Tamil, uses the unripe fruit which they call narthangai.  The fruit is pickled by cutting it into spirals and stuffing it with salt.  The juice from the ripe fruit is also used as a marinade for meat in Cuban, Mexican and other Latin American cooking.  In most Mexican and Latin American cookbooks requiring this ingredient, refer to it as sour orange.  The peel is also in bitters – a common addition to many a delicious cocktail  Angostura and Peychaud’s are common brands. The Belgian Witbier (white beer) is made from wheat spiced with bitter orange peel, and in Glögg (mulled wine).  The Finnish use bitter orange peel in gingerbread, also in mämmi.   

Blood Oranges

Blood oranges are a variety of orange with crimson, blood-colored flesh. The fruit is smaller than an average orange; its skin can be pitted or smooth. The dark reddish or purple flesh is caused by the presence of anthocyanin, a pigment common to many flowers other fruit (such as fuji or red delicious apples), but not so with citrus.  Sometimes the dark coloring is seen on the the rind, depending on the variety of blood orange.  The degree of coloration depends on light, temperature the orange received in its development as well as the variety of orange. 

The three most common types of blood oranges are: the Tarocco (native to Italy), the Sanguinello (native to Spain), and the Moro, the newest variety of the three.  These beauties are the highlights – many more variaties and permutations exist, but are far less common.  The flavor is a orange (of course) with a touch of raspberry, the scent is the same.  They are the most comon variety grown in Italy.  I love this citrus, and if you want to amaze people, squeeze some fresh juice.  The juice is such a beautiful color, and it goes without saying that it mixes with a variety of liqueors- start with substituting it for anything you would normally use conventional orange juice.  One of my all time favorite ways to use blood oranges is to make sorbet, and then use the wonderful rind in limoncellos. 

blood oranges in a bowl my dad made me =)
blood oranges in a bowl my dad made me =)

The Moro, a recent addition to the blood orange family, comes in blazing as the most colorful of the three types, with a deep purple flesh and reddish rind. The flavor is stronger and the aroma is more intense than a normal orange. This fruit has a distinct, sweet flavour with a hint of raspberry particular to blood oranges. The Moro variety is believed to have originated at the beginning of the 19th century in the citrus-growing area around Lentini (in the Province of Siracusa in Sicily) as a bud mutation of the Sanguigno.  Moro are “full-blood” oranges, meaning that the flesh ranges from orange-veined with ruby coloration.  The thick orange-colored peel has a medium fine grain with spots or red wine veins.

 The Tarocco is a medium-sized fruit and the sweetest and most flavorful of the three types. The most popular orange in Italy, the Tarocco is thought to have derived from the Sanguinello.  It is referred to as “half-blood”, because the flesh is not accentuated in red pigmentation as much as the other two varieties.  The Tarocco is one of the world’s most popular oranges because of its sweetness and juiciness.  It has the highest Vitamin C content of any orange, because of the fertile soil surrounding Mount Etna.  The Tarocco orange is seedless, and it contains anthocyanins, as do other blood oranges.  The name Tarocco is thought to be derived from an exclamation of wonder expressed by the farmer who was shown this fruit by its discoverer. 

The Sanguinello (saŋgwɪˈnɛllo), also called Sanguinelli in the US (its Sicilian common name), discovered in Spain in 1929, has a reddish skin, few seeds, and a sweet and tender flesh.  Sanguinello, the Sicilian late “full-blood” orange, resembles the Moro.  It matures in February, but can remain on trees unharvested until April.  Fruit can last until the end of May.  The peel is yellow with a red tinge, and the flesh is orange with multiple blood-colored streaks.

Blood oranges cultivated in the United States are in season from December to March (Texas), and from November to May (California).  Trees bear fruit in Florida, but because it lacks the “Mediterranean” temperature variation between day and night, the oranges fail to develop the distinctive red color– blood oranges grown in Florida often have little to no red pigmentation.  

Meyer Lemons

Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin, and were named for Frank N. Meyer who first discovered the plant while on a trip to China in 1908, where it was commonly grown as an ornamental plant.  They are less acidic than their Lisbon and Eureka siblings, and have a thin, edible skin.  It became popular as a food item in the United States after being rediscovered by chefs, such as Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, during the California Cuisine revolution, and then Martha (as in Stewart) got in the act.  The Meyer lemon is also known as the Valley lemonin southern Texas due to its popularity in the Rio Grande Valley region. 


Orlando and Minnola are two of the most common types of tangelos.

Orlandos are noted for their juicy, mild, sweet flavor, and are available from mid-November to the beginning of February.  Orlandos are flat-round in shape and larger in size.   The Orlando tangelo is a cross between a Duncan grapefruit and a Dancy tangerine.  

Most Minneolas are characterized by a stem-end neck which tends to make the fruit appear bell-shaped. Because of this it is called the Honeybell in the gift fruit trade where it is one of the most popular varieties, but the proper name is Minneola. The fruit is usually fairly large, typically 3 – 3½ inches in diameter. The peel color is a bright reddish-orange color.  The peel is relatively thin and peels easily, and very juicy.   The fruit matures in the December-February period with January being the peak.

On the East Coast of the United States, some of this citrus can be hard to come by – I suggest Wegmans, and Whole Foods to start. 


The yuzu ( Japanese ユズ, 柚, 柚子 (yuzu); 유자 (yuja) in Korean; from Chinese 柚子, yòuzi) is a hybrid of sour mandarin and Ichang papeda.  The fruit looks  like a small grapefruit with an uneven skin, and is either yellow or green depending on its ripeness. The fruit originated in China, and grows wild in central China and Tibet.  It was introduced to Japan and Korea during the Tang Dynasty and it is in these countries where its use was fully developed. 

The yuzu’s flavor is tart like a grapefruit, with Mandarin orange overtones.  It is rarely eaten raw, though in Japan its aromatic zest (outer rind) is used as garnish, and its juice is like lemon juice to season. It is an integral ingredient (along with sudachi, daidai, and other similar fruits) in the citrus-based sauce ponzu, and yuzu vinegar is also produced.  It is used in baking and liquor (such as yuzukomachi, 柚子小町) and wine (which pairs well, as you can imagine, with Asian dishes – I first heard about it in Bon Appetit magazine, but have some trouble locating it, it is not common in wine shops in the US).  Yuzu kosho (also yuzukosho, literally “yuzu and pepper”), is a spicy Japanese sauce made from green or yellow yuzu zest, green or red chile peppers, and salt.  Slivered yuzu rind is also used to garnish a savory, salty egg-pudding dish called chawanmushi, and miso soup.

Yuzu is prized for its fragrance. In Japan, bathing with yuzu on Toji (the winter solstice) is popular.   The whole fruits are floated in the hot water of the bath (sometimes enclosed in a cloth bag), releasing their aroma.

Like the citron, in Korean cuisine, yuzu (called yuja in Korean) is used, thinly sliced and combined with sugar and honey, to make a thick, marmalade-like syrup containing pieces of the chopped rind and fruit.  It is also used to make yuja hwachae, a traditional fruit punch.

Yuzu is also found in a Dutch beer called iKi, brewed in Haarlem, Netherlands.


The grapefruit is a subtropical citrus tree grown for its bitter fruit which were originally named the “forbidden fruit” of Barbados.   The flesh is segmented and acidic, varying in color including white, pink and red pulps of varying sweetness.  The 1929 US Ruby Red (of the Redblush variety) has the first grapefruit patent.  It is thought to be a cross between the sweet orange and the pomelo.  The fruit only become popular in the late 19th century; prior to that time  it was only grown as an ornamental plant.  The US quickly became a major producer of the fruit, with orchards in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California.  In Spanish, the fruit is known as toronja or pomelo.

The fruit was first documented in 1750 by the Rev. Griffith Hughes when describing specimens from Barbados.  The grapefruit is considered one of the “Seven Wonders of Barbados.”  It was brought to Florida by Count Odette Philippe in 1823.  Further crosses produced the tangelo (1905), the minneola (1931), and the sweetie (1984). 

The 1929 Ruby Red patent was the real commercial success.  The Red grapefruit, starting from the Ruby Red, has become symbolic of Texas, where white “inferior” grapefruit were eliminated and only red grapefruit were grown for decades.  Using radiation to trigger mutations, new varieties were developed that retained the red tones which fade to pink.  Rio Red is the current Texas favorite with a registered trademark.

In Costa Rica around Athenas, grapefruits are often cooked in a way that removes their sourness, and they are also stuffed with dulce de leche to make a dessert called toronja rellena (stuffed grapefruit).

Toronja Rellena


  • 8 small grapefruit
  • cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • Peel of 1 grated lemon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 200 g sugar to top of dessert

For the filling:

  • 400 g powdered milk
  • 1 stick butter 
  • 1 large can of condensed milk


Slice the grapefuits in half and remove the pulp.  In a saucepan, warm, add grapefruit shells (hollowed out rind) and cook with baking soda to remove the bitter taste.  When cooked, wash well and left at rest for one day. They must be completely dry.

Combine the grapefruit pulp, cinnamon and cloves. Simmer and add the grated lemon.  Let return to room temperature.

Melt butter over low heat with condensed milk.  Add the milk powder. Add nuts if you desire.  Stir until well blended. Fill the hollowed grapefuit shells with filling and grapefruit mixture.  Sprinkle with sugar.


So there you have it, a mini study of citrus.



  1. That the orange is a hybrid to begin with was definitely surprising and much and all as I like earl grey tea, I never knew that bergamot was actually a type of citrus. So much to learn!

  2. Another great citrus post! I went to visit my spice rack and found a regular orange peel and a Valencia orange peel. The Valencia orange peel in my experience adds a lot more flavor to the dishes and it’s sweeter. I’ve been using it almost exclusively lately.

    Yuzu has been very popular in 5 star restaurants so I’ve had it in various preparations but I didn’t know too much about it so it was great to learn more here. Thanks!

  3. Fabulous post! The Seville oranges are deceiving… they look and smell so tasty and then bam – pucker up!

    So with you on Harold McGee. Love his book, but I can only do it a page at a time.

  4. More great info! I had never heard of a tangor and didn’t know how Bergamot was bred. I love learning knew things on your site!

  5. Wow, we really didn’t know what more than 1/2 of those citrus fruits were! Knowledge is power.

  6. I am the new proud owner of a dwarf Meyer lemon tree. Now, being that I’m not the greatest gardener in the world, I’m just hoping I don’t kill it. I do so love Meyer lemons for their fragrance and floral-like juice. Here’s hoping my tree lives to bear fruit. 😉

  7. Good luck – I make no claims to green thumbs myself and I have the most random luck. Look forward to hearing about what you do with the lemons you grow.

  8. Want to hear something crazy, I have never seen zest in a jar? Now I will keep my eyes wide open…I love this piece, are we twins as I write like this. I am a total food (geek) historian and writer if you have not noticed 🙂 How do I get a feed from your stuff otherwise if you do not comment I stay side tracked and miss out on your stuff, until I remember!

  9. Do you want to here another trivia about orange? We do grow our own oranges in Turkey, I don’t know why but the best ones here are called “Washington Orange”. Even I don’t know whether orange is grown in Washington or not. Or do people of Washington ever hear this or not?

  10. Hi Zerrin,

    I looked up Washington Oranges and they’re a variety of navel orange which was first developed in Brazil. I could not find any other connection. How strange, but I bet you’re right – they may have originally come from Washington, or someone had a fondness for our first president =)

  11. wow. what an amazing education on citrus. I never knew I could learn so much on one day on this variety of fruit!
    I’ve always been curious about yuzu and satsuma.

  12. […] more information, visit Oysterculture’s citrus […]

  13. thanks for the comment! when you do try the cilantro-coconut spread, do let me know how you like it!

  14. Always thought “pips” were just a slang term used by Jamie Oliver!

    When I was a kid, my grandmother used to “candy” orange peels in a jar with sugar syrup. I would eat them till I had a stomach ache. I think the recipe’s been lost, will have to check with my relatives. Reading this post made me crave them again.

    I actually knew about the sour Seville oranges being used in marmalade – I learned this piece of trivia on a whirlwhind 4 hour tour of Seville several years ago (and that’s about all I remember)

    So you mean all those times I stood in the produce section looking for the most orange-y colored orange was a big waste of time?! LOL

    Great recipe- love grapefruit, love condensed milk – good times!

  15. Hi Phylllis, ya learn something new every day. Pips is British slang:
    To say something is easy. Used mainly by little kids in school
    a) How did you do on that test?
    b) It was pips man. I aced it.

    I might have to start using it ;^)

    Yes – sorry to disappoint you on the orangey-orange front – it was news to me too. Now I’m a real touchy feely girl – I get better results =)

  16. haha,actually it’s BREAD talk, not BEAN talk. singapore has a lot of bakeries like this, another one is called Four Clover that has all these different little cute buns and pastries and stuff, and another called Q Bread with a lot of interesting bread creations like bread “sushi.” very cool. that said, they make horrible artisan breads like baguette and croissants and stuff like that. but for sweet breads, they’re awesome. I hope you get to visit singapore one more time to try them!

  17. Oops, Burp – I must have been thinking of something else =) I certainly plan to get back to Singapore more than once. I loved the experience and I have a good friend from college there that was kind enough to give me a real tour of the place. One of those once in a life time experiences where you get a native’s perspective.

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