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February/March 2007

Getting to Know: Citrus Fruits

Sweet, tart, and high in vitamin C, citrus fruits are favorites across the globe. We picked, peeled, and ate 16 varieties, some common, some obscure.


The name of this fruit does not refer to its color—the word orange comes from the ancient Tamil word naru, which means “fragrant.” The most common supermarket variety is the Valencia, a type of navel orange. Its flesh is “juicy and smooth,” with a “mild, tangy acidity.”

White Grapefruit

These large tropical fruits are grown primarily in the southern U.S. and are so named because they grow in tight clusters, much like grapes. Their “dense” flesh holds an abundance of “bracingly sharp” juice that has hints of “raw sugar cane” sweetness.

Blood Orange

These thin-skinned oranges are sometimes called Moro oranges. Originally cultivated in Italy, they have a red blush on their skin and magenta to blood-red flesh. Their flavor is “winy and complex,” with a “fresh berry” character.


The common Persian lime is just as likely to garnish a tall glass of cola as it is to season a spicy salsa. Limes have a “clean, bright” flavor with “herbal” and “floral” overtones and juice with slightly “less bite than a lemon.”

Key Lime

Although named for the Florida Keys, these golf ball–sized limes are native to Southeast Asia. Key limes have a complex “earthy-floral” aroma and “sharp” juice. You’ll need at least four Key limes to equal the juice of one Persian lime.


Clementines are typically imported from Spain or North Africa. Their thin skin peels easily to reveal plump, seedless segments. Clementines have a “perfumed, floral aroma” and a “honey-sweet” flavor.


An orange and grapefruit hybrid, the tangelo is slightly larger than an orange, with a small, tapered neck. Neon orange in color, its flesh has a “silky, fine-grained” quality and a “bright acidity” that is reminiscent of the fruit drink Sunny Delight.

Cara Cara Orange

Originally cultivated in Venezuela, this medium-sized variety of navel orange is notable for its “salmon-colored” flesh. Its flesh is “light, sweet,” and relatively “low in acidity,” with a “flowery” aroma and “subtle strawberry finish.”


The common lemon is a variety called Eureka. Its juice has a mouth-puckering “white wine vinegar” tartness, with a hint of “Granny Smith apple.”

Ruby Red Grapefruit

This sweet variety of grapefruit, with its blushing orange rind and meaty, brilliant-pink flesh, is most commonly associated with Texas. Its flavor is “slightly sour,” with “hints of honey and lime” and a “pleasantly bitter” finish.


Tangerines belong to the mandarin family of oranges, which have thin, loose skins. They are easily peeled, but they can also be “very seedy.” They are “full of juice” and “low in acid,” with a sweet flavor that reminded some tasters of “baby aspirin.”


This olive-sized fruit from China has sweet skin and sour flesh. The entire fruit, from seeds to skin, can be eaten, making kumquats excellent candidates for preserves and pickling. They’re “crunchy” and “bittersweet,” with a “complex, anise” aroma. Eat whole or slice and cook.


The largest citrus fruit, a pummelo can measure 12 inches across and weigh upward of 15 pounds. They have light yellow skin and “sweet-sour” flesh. Although their flavor is “light and almost nutty,” an abundance of “chewy” membranes can leave a “bitter aftertaste.”

Seville Orange

This sour orange has very tart flesh and high pectin content, making it ideal for use in marmalades. Its aromatic zest is used to flavor a number of products, from liqueurs to perfumes. Its “dry” texture and “bitter” flavor make it more suitable for cooking than eating out of hand.

Ugli Fruit

With its wrinkled, haggard appearance, this fruit certainly lives up to its name. Relatively large in size, the ugli fruit is related to the tangerine, grapefruit, and sour orange. Its thick, greenish skin drapes “candy-sweet, fibrous” flesh that tastes like “an orange with a hint of banana.”

Meyer Lemon

Some botanists believe this fruit is a cross between a lemon and an orange (the exact origin is unkown). The Meyer’s skin is smooth and deep yellowish-orange, and its juice is sweeter than other types of lemon. It has a “green grapey” taste that is “aromatic” but still “assertively acidic.”