A Zest-y History
Fun fact: Did you know all citrus fruits can be traced back to a single ancestor? This great-great-great grandmother citrus tree originated in what was once a part of the Persian Empire, where it quickly diversified into several types of different citrus fruits, some of which we might recognize today and others which never managed to proliferate beyond Asia. The first evidence of citrus being grown in Europe dates to around the year 310 BCE, but there’s plenty of evidence showing that citrus had been cultivated for centuries back in Asia. A book written in 1178 AD by Chinese scholar Han Yen-chih describes and names around twenty-seven varieties of oranges alone, with additional descriptions of citrons, kumquats, and more; meanwhile, Europeans of the same era were limited to sweet orange, bitter orange (which was aptly named and used sparingly), lemon, and lime. To be fair, the average European noble in the Middle Ages might have scoffed at the idea of eating fresh fruit to begin with, viewing it as “unclean” and fit only for consumption by peasants. In fact, it was the Arabs who really popularized citrus in foods for the wealthy. Arabic culinary trends began to take a turn towards the sour sometime in the thirteenth century, and fruits like lemons and citron began appearing more often in wealthy kitchens – and cuisine.
Between the spread of ideas and goods via trades routes and the not-so-occasional invasions from certain Arabic armies, most of the citrus varieties we’re familiar with in the West had arrived by the 1400’s; however, certain citrus (such as the beloved mandarin orange) didn’t arrive until 1800’s, when trade routes and treaties were finally advanced enough to allow export to Europe and elsewhere. Double fun fact: did you know that Louis the Fourteenth of France had a collection of orange trees at the Palace of Versailles? The palace already had an existing orangery, but Louis ordered that its size be doubled before filling the space with every orange tree he could get his hands on, including trees imported from countries all over the Mediterranean. All told, the orangery boasts around 1,000 orange trees total, all potted in tubs made of solid silver – talk about showing citrus some love!
Featured This Week at Oliver’s Market
While we might not have solid silver tubs, we’re showing citrus some love in our own Oliver’s way. We invite you to check out some of the amazing citrus we have to offer this season and enjoy something new, whether in a cocktail, a sauce, a baked good, or enjoyed on its own. You may find a new favorite!
Organic Buddha’s Hand
While this citron may look like something out of a science fiction novel, it’s actually one of our very favorite citrus varieties. Unlike most citrus fruits, there’s neither pulp nor juice inside those funky fingers, just a whole lot of white pith; it’s the zest that’s the real gem on this citron, and there is a lot of it! Select one with ‘fingers’ that are clearly separated and curl slightly away from each other. The color should be bright yellow, the fruit should feel firm all over, and there should be a noticeable lemon-blossom scent.
Buddha’s Hand may not have the edible innards of its citrus cousins, but the sweetly scented zest is perfect for cooking, lending an incredibly delicate citrus flavor to any dish. Vinaigrettes, teas, and even infused liqueurs are perfect uses for Buddha’s Hand, but it’s shines especially bright when candied. Give the gift of citrus this holiday season with delicious Candied Buddha’s Hand that keep the sweetness going all year long!
Organic Local Meyer Lemons
Let’s get one thing straight: Meyer Lemons are not conventional lemons; conventional lemons wish they could be half as tasty as Meyer Lemons. A cross between the famously sweet mandarin orange and the lemons most of us know, Meyer Lemons exemplify the best aspects of both. They’re noticeably smaller and darker in color than their conventional counterparts, looking more like an orange than a lemon, and the scent is closer to a bergamot and strangely complex. The flesh itself is far less acidic than an ordinary lemon and also far sweeter; this makes Meyers the ultimate lemon for baking with, as the flavor is far sweeter and more nuanced that conventional lemons.
While Meyer lemons are most often used in desserts, we think they’re the perfect choice for this flavorful Lemon Risotto! Enjoy it as a light side dish with big lemon flavor alongside grilled fish, roasted chicken, or seared steak.
These bite-sized citrus fruits are bursting with flavor! These little gems are completely edible, making them ideal for cooking and snacking alike. While Kumquats do contain a small amount of very tart juicy flesh, the real flavor lies in the skin; eaten whole, they offer an intense burst of citrus flavor with a tart, tangy finish. When selecting yours, opt for those that are bright orange and about 2 inches long; avoid kumquats with a green cast to the skin, as they are underripe!
Kumquats hold up well to cooking and are great for savory or sweet preparations. Slice them into coins to add to salads or homemade marmalade, or add to roasts and sauces for deliciously intense citrus flavor.
Organic Star Ruby Grapefruit
Grapefruit is considered a superfood by many, and these gorgeous Ruby Red Grapefruit are no exception. Inside their unassuming yellow skin hides the ruby red flesh from which they get their name. The flavor is what we think of when we think of grapefruit: sweet and tart with just a hint of bitterness. In fact, the redder the flesh, the sweeter the grapefruit! When selecting yours, select those which are highly aromatic and heavy for their size, with a blush of pink that indicates ideal ripeness.
Packed with Vitamin C, lycopene, and a whole host of other vital nutrients, Ruby Red Grapefruits make a great, healthy breakfast or snack all on their own, but they are also fantastic in more complex preparations. We love to mix the juice into cocktails for its bright color and flavor – try it in this amazing version of Hemingway’s Special Daiquiri.
Organic Blue Heron Navel Oranges
From Blue Heron Ranch in California’s Capay Valley, come these sweet, juicy and tasty oranges. They are versatile enough to be used in cooking, in salads, desserts, and sauces, and for snacking. These whole sweet oranges have been grown for thousands of years, starting with the first navel orange tree which was discovered in Brazil in 1820. They’re named because of the small indentation on the outside of the rind, situated at the opposite end from the stem, that somewhat resembles a human navel. That “navel” is actually an undeveloped “twin” fruit caused by a genetic mutation. Since navel oranges are seedless, they’re cultivated via grafting, where a flowering bud is attached to another tree. This means that all navel orange trees are considered genetic clones of the original navel orange tree from Brazil.
Organic Cara Cara Oranges
Cara Cara oranges are a type of winter orange known for their sweet flavor, low acidity, and pinkish-red flesh, similar to the color of pink grapefruit. They are commonly used for juicing and for snacking on raw, as well as in fruit salads, green salads, desserts, and sauces.
Cara Cara oranges are a winter cultivar of the species Citrus sinensis, which also includes cultivars such as navel oranges, blood oranges, and Valencia oranges. In fact, Cara Cara oranges are a type of navel orange, exhibiting a characteristic small indentation on the outside of the rind, situated at the opposite end from the stem, that somewhat resembles a human navel. Underneath this navel is an undeveloped “twin” fruit caused by a genetic mutation.
Like all navel oranges, Cara Cara oranges are seedless, and are cultivated via grafting, where a flowering bud is attached to another tree. Cara Cara oranges are believed to be a hybrid of the Brazilian Bahia orange and the Washington navel orange.
Unlike conventional navel oranges, whose juice can become slightly bitter when exposed to oxygen, Cara Cara oranges produce a sweet juice. And, because they’re seedless, they are particularly useful for adding to fruit salads, green salads, and salsas, as well as in cooked dishes featuring poultry, seafood, and vegetables. Desserts and sweets like muffins, tarts, cookies, cakes, and quick breads are also excellent ways to highlight their sweet, berry-like flavor.
Organic Blood Oranges
Blood oranges are a rather gruesome name for a wonderfully sweet and beautifully colored citrus fruit. They tend to be a bit smaller than other types of oranges, with a thick, pitted skin that may or may not have a reddish blush, but they look like regular oranges from the outside.
The inside flesh is brilliantly dark pink, maroon, or even dark blood red. The red color is the result of anthocyanin, which develops when these citrus fruits ripen during warm days tempered with cooler nights.
Anthocyanin, the pigment that gives the red color to blood oranges, starts to develop along the edges of the peel and then follows the edges of the segments before moving into the flesh. So, blood oranges can be lined or streaked with red instead of fully blood-colored, depending on the season, when they were harvested, and their particular variety.
Blood oranges tend to be easier to peel than other oranges, often have fewer seeds, and have a sweeter taste. The fruit can be eaten as is, juiced, or used in baked goods, cocktails, salads, or other dishes that call for oranges. Along with their lovely red color, blood oranges tend to have a noticeable and delicious raspberry edge to their flavor.
Organic Minneola Tangelos
Minneola tangelos are a part of the Citrus genus and are a hybrid variety belonging to the Rutaceae family. The orange-red fruits were developed in the late 20th century in the United States and are sometimes known as Honeybells, a descriptor given for the fruit’s sweet flavor and bell-like shape. Minneola tangelos were also named after the town of Minneola, Florida, and the name tangelo was developed from a combination of pomelo and tangerine. Despite their primarily seedless nature and favorable, sweet-tart taste, Minneola tangelos are not commercially cultivated on a wide scale and are a challenging variety to find. The fruits are well-known as a flavorful citrus variety that comes into season during the holidays and is often sought after by citrus enthusiasts across the United States.
Minneola tangelos have a sweet-tart, tangy flavor best suited for raw applications. The fruits can be easily peeled, segmented, and consumed straight, out-of-hand, or they can be stirred into pasta or tossed into green salads. The flesh can also be mixed into fruit salads with other citrus varieties, chopped into salsa, blended into smoothies, cocktails, juices, and other beverages, or pressed into juice and incorporated into salad dressings, sauces, and vinaigrettes. Minneola tangelos can be used as a tart substitute for mandarin oranges and are a favored flavoring for syrups, cakes, cookies, and brownies.
Organic Tango Tangerines
A new hybrid of the Murcott mandarin developed by the University of California at Riverside, Tango tangerines have a pronounced squatty-round shape with a deep orange, very smooth rind that is easy to peel. The interior fruit is also a very rich orange color, delicately textured and quite juicy, with a full-bodied, sweet flavor when mature. Unlike most mandarin varieties, the Tango is completely seedless. Tango tangerines are great for juicing or simply as an out of hand snack.
Choose a tangerine that feels heavy (juicy) for its size with a soft, but not wrinkled skin that is bright in color. This fruit will stay fresh two weeks under proper refrigeration.
Don’t Miss Out on These A-peel-ing Gems!
The world of citrus is full of possibilities, but we hope we have succeeded in curating a great selection of options to explore. We’re featuring the best of the best and invite you to pick up some favorites and make a new discovery, too! Our Produce Department team is also standing by, ready to answer your questions.