Oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes—citrus fruits are a perfect complement to today's hottest cuisines, such as Asian, Mediterranean and Caribbean.
As an ingredient or garnish, citrus adds color, texture and authenticity to a dish that might otherwise be considered ordinary. Chock full of nutrients and fiber, citrus also offers many opportunities for healthful dining. But there's more to buying citrus than meets the eye. Here's a rundown of some of the most common varieties of citrus fruits and their seasonality.
Oranges fall into three basic categories: sweet, loose-skinned and bitter.
Of the sweet variety,Valencia and Navel are the most common.
Valencia: Sweet and juicy,Valencia oranges are grown in Arizona, Florida, California and Texas.They feature a thin, somewhat pebbly rind that's difficult to peel, and have few seeds. Suitable for juicing and eating out of hand,Valencias are in season from February through November.
Navel: Grown in California,Arizona and Florida, Navel oranges get their name from a navel-like formation at the blossom end of the fruit. Sweet and juicy, with a thick, easy-to-peel skin, Navels are perfect for eating out of hand and for use in fresh salads, entrèes and specialty items.They are in season from November through April.
Loose-skinned oranges are so named for their easy-to-remove skins and easy-to-divide segments. Mandarin oranges are one example.
Bitter oranges, such as Seville and Bergamot, are usually reserved for cooking in preparations such as marmalade. They are prized for their skins and essential oils, which are used for flavoring foods and liqueurs.
When selecting oranges, bright colors are not always a good indicator of quality. Valencias, for example, sometimes experience "regreening" during the ripening phase.That means under certain conditions, chlorophyll returns to the skin's surface, making them turn from golden to green.The longer they remain on the tree, the greener they become. Instead of evaluating oranges by color, look for fruit that is firm and heavy, with no mold or spongy spots.
Though USDA grading of oranges is voluntary, the two grades are U.S. Fancy (premium) and U.S. No. 1 (choice). Premium indicates top quality citrus in form, color, texture and flavor. Choice citrus may have exterior defects but is still considered of good quality and an economical buy for large-scale operations.
Oranges are generally shipped in standardized, paperboard cartons that hold up to 40 lbs. Size designation, printed on the carton, shows how many oranges are inside and the size of each individual piece of fruit.The larger the number, the smaller the fruit and vice versa.A carton of "138s," for example, holds 138 small-sized oranges. One carrying "48s" contains 48 large oranges.
Lemons are cultivated in temperate and tropical climates, but the majority of those grown in the U.S. come from California. Known for their bright yellow skin and juicy, acidic flesh, lemons are one of the most versatile citrus fruits for cooking.They are an integral part of many entrÈes, salads, sauces, beverages, marinades, fillings, preserves and flavorings.
Unlike other types of citrus, lemons don't require significant heat to ripen and are harvested all year. Lemons should be firm, plump and heavy for their size with a smooth, brightly colored skin (a green tinge indicates under-ripeness.)
Lemons are usually shipped in paperboard cartons holding about 40 lbs. of fruit. Size designation states the number of lemons inside and indicates the size of the fruit, similar to the designation for oranges . For example a carton of "200s" holds 200 small-size lemons, while a carton of "75s" contains 75 large lemons.
If kept refrigerated, lemon wedges will stay fresh for up to four days. Uncut lemons last for up to two weeks.
These tropical citrus fruits grow in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas and are available all year. Flavorful and juicy, grapefruit are mainly classified as seeded and seedless, and by various colors, including white, pink and red. Most are similar in flavor and quality.
When selecting grapefruit, look for a thin, fine-textured, brightly colored skin and a firm, yet springy feel.The heavier the grapefruit, the juicer it is.
Canned and frozen grapefruit are also available in segments and juice form.
Grapefruit generally is shipped in paperboard cartons, which hold about 35 lbs. of fruit. Size is designated on the outside of the carton. As with lemons and oranges, the smaller the number, the larger the fruit.
Grown in tropical and subtropical climates, limes have a thin green skin and a juicy, green pulp. The two main varieties are Persian (the most widely available variety in the U.S.) and Florida Key limes. Key limes are smaller and more round with a yellowish tint. Persian limes are available all year but peak between May and August.
Uncut limes will last for up to 10 days, and cut limes for up to five days, when stored in a plastic bag and refrigerated.
Seasonal citrus comes in all varieties and is mainly available from fall through spring. Some of the most widely used types include Tangerines, Tangelos, Moro (blood) oranges, Cara Cara Navel oranges, Mandarins, Pummelos, Oroblancos and Melogolds.
Handling and Storage
Fresh citrus should be stored in cool (about 45 to 48°F), well-ventilated areas on pallets or racks off the floor. The USDA recommends washing fruits under clean running tap water before eating or preparing to remove any microorganisms or dirt.
Source: Much of this information was provided by Sunkist Growers, www. sunkist.com