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June

Walking in a Citrus Wonderland

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While winter can be a dark and gloomy time for much of the world, there’s a beacon of light to be found on the shelves of your local grocery store. What am I talking about? Fresh citrus, of course!

Winter is the heart of the citrus season, and you know what happens when something is in season…the price drops, helping you take advantage of the abundance. 

Did you know that there are more than just navel oranges and ruby red grapefruit to be had during this time? Well, I’m here to tell you all about the wealth of citrus varieties out there for you to turn into some seriously tasty and nutritious juice. Let’s check them out!

1. The History of Citrus

Before diving into the many types of citrus, let’s take a look at the biology and history of this spritely fruit! 

Map of the inferred original wild Citrus by species.
Inferred original wild Citrus by species.

Citrus spp. is a genus of flowering plants (typically trees and shrubs) that are in the Rue Family (Rutaceae), and the most well-known of all the genera in this family. Citrus is native to the subtropical regions of Asia; including parts of India, China, Southeast Asia, and all the way to Northern Australia. 

All modern citrus began their collective journey from a single species over 15 million years ago. So, these orbs of deliciousness have been around for a long, long time. Through cultivation practices (known as hybridization) that began with indigenous peoples in these regions, the development and range of the various varieties have spread across the globe, becoming the different citrus we know and love today.

Now that we’ve given you a sense of the history of this incredible fruit, let’s take a closer look at some of the varieties you can find at your area grocery or specialty market this winter. 

With over 100 different species, hybrids, and cultivars of the amazing Citrus, we’re going to focus on the ones that are great for juicing and are more readily available here in the United States.

2. Types of Citrus

  • Common Orange
Close up shot of the common orange in bulk

For anyone who’s enjoyed a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice can attest that there’s nothing common about the good old orange. In fact, depending on where they’re grown, they both juice and taste distinctly different.

Those of us living here in Florida know how much juice you get out of a Florida-grown orange. The skin is thin, light orange in color, and typically with areas of what is called “wind scaring” that give it a mottled appearance. Our hot, wet climate allows the oranges here to develop a lot of juice without needing a thick peel meaning you get more juice than a California orange of the same exact variety. The amount of juice isn’t the only difference. All that rain results in juicier oranges that are a bit more tart than their West-coast counterparts. That’s why Florida is the OJ capital of the United States!

California oranges, again of the exact same variety, look and taste noticeably different. Grown in a distinctly hot, dry climate, their oranges develop much thicker skin with less juice per orange. However, due to the concentration of the sugars that happens because it’s so dry they are notably sweeter than those grown here in Florida. They’re known as “table oranges” versus “juice oranges”, and typically have that perfectly glowing orange skin that is easy to peel.

I love them both equally and use them in different ways. Both are delicious on their own, but I prefer using Florida oranges as the base for dual or multi-fruit and vegetable juice recipes. (For some juicy inspiration, check out our article on Tasty Citrus Juice Recipes.)

  • Blood (Raspberry) Orange
Close up of blood (raspberry) orange slices

This variety is one of my personal favorites, both for its gorgeous color and incredible flavor. All hail the Blood Orange!  

Blood oranges originated in the southern Mediterranean in the 18th century. They are a mainstay in Italy, used in everything from tarts, marmalade, and soda, and are now also grown in Texas and California.

Depending on the variety, the color of the flesh ranges from orange with streaks of red all the way to a deep, solid, nearly purple hue. You can imagine where the name comes from. Recently, I’ve seen the blood orange marketed as “raspberry” orange, with the word “blood” in very small print. It turns out that some are turned off by the idea of an orange being bloody, hence the rebranding.

As far as the taste goes, these jewels are the perfect combination of sweet and tart; all orangy goodness with just a hit of raspberry. I typically suggest drinking the juice from blood oranges straight up. It’s just that good, and the color will knock your socks right off!

Whether you find “blood” or “raspberry” oranges in your area, be sure to snag them while they’re both plentiful and inexpensive. You’re going to LOVE them!

  • Cara Cara Orange
Cara Cara oranges showing pink flesh

The Cara Cara orange is a newer citrus variety to hit the scene. It was discovered in Venezuela on a farm back in 1976. It was a natural mutation of a typical navel orange, rather than a purposeful hybrid, at Hacienda Cara Cara, hence the name. 

This particular orange has beautiful pink flesh inside its normal-looking orange skin. They’re very sweet and a bit less acidic than a common orange, with hints of cranberry and blackberry. The juice is as pretty as it is tasty, and I like to drink this one in its pure form, just like the Blood Orange.

Another fun fact about the Cara Cara Orange is that it contains 20 percent more vitamin C and 30 percent more vitamin A as compared to the common navel orange. This little orange is full of wonderful surprises!

  • Mandarin Oranges, Tangerines, Clementines, and Satsumas

You’re probably wondering why I’ve bundled these four citrus fruits into one entry when I’ve broken up the above three into separate descriptions. It’s because they’re technically all the same citrus: the Mandarin.

Think of the Tangerine, Clementine, and Satsuma as different facets of the same jewel. Each one has a slightly different shape, size, and sweetness. Here is how you tell them apart.

Mandarin oranges with one tiny pumpkin to show size and shape similarity

The Mandarin Orange is thought to be the ancestor of all other citruses, loosely speaking, and has been around since ancient times. It’s typically the second-largest of the four with a flat bottom and top, giving it a mini-pumpkin look. It has loose skin that is very easy to peel and richly flavored, super sweet, bright orange flesh that makes some darn fine juice.

basket of tangerines with the leaves still on

The Tangerine is just a bit larger than the Mandarin with thinner, but slightly tougher skin and is a bit more tart and less sweet. It still makes great juice, so you can’t go wrong with either.

peeled cutie clementines

Clementines are much smaller than Tangerines and are typically seedless. Combine that with their easy-to-peel skin, and they’re marketed as a great snack food for kids (and I agree). Their skin is a little more on the red-orange side and they’re typically sold under the “Cuties” or “Sweeties” 

wooden gift box of satsuma

Last but certainly not least is the Satsuma. This is the tiniest of the four and packs the most sweetness in its diminutive package. It originates from Japan; discovered over 700 years ago. It has a lighter orange color with sweet, juicy, seedless flesh, and is super easy to peel. It’s also very delicate, bruising easily, so it’s not as commonly found as the other three. But if you do find it, it’s worth every penny!

I typically don’t juice the latter two nearly as much as Tangerines or Mandarins, due to their size, but when I do it’s an incredibly delicious experience.

  • Tangelos
close up of a tangelo showing the telltale knob on one end

The origin of this citrus is not exactly what you’d expect. It is a hybrid of the Tangerine or Mandarin but not the orange. Rather, the other half of the Tangelo cross is a Grapefruit or Pomelo. The first cultivar was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1911. 

These bright orange-skinned fruits are about the size of an adult fist, with a sweet-tart flavor and a large amount of juice. The skin is loose, making it easy to peel, and is readily identified by its characteristic knob found on the stem side. If you’ve ever looked at a citrus gift catalog and run across the “Honeybell”, those are a type of Tangelo. 

Their juice is amazing. Again great on its own and also delicious mixed with other fruits and vegetables.

  • Ugli Fruit
close up of three ugli fruit with one in cross section

This is a type of Tangelo that deserves its own description. First found growing wild near Brown’s Town, Jamaica in 1917, the world’s supply of this natural hybrid is still mainly grown there today.

The name “Ugli” came from the fact that, well, it’s not the prettiest-looking citrus fruit. It has light green skin that turns orange as it hits peak ripeness, with warty, misshapen skin. But don’t let this Ugli duckling fool you. This citrus is very juicy, with a sweet-sour flavor that makes some absolutely delicious juice. The flavor is reminiscent of a mixture of lemon and tangerine, perfect on its own with other produce.

  • Grapefruit
thin slices of ruby red grapefruit

The Grapefruit is purported to be a natural hybrid originating in the West Indies during the 1700s. This is one of the larger, but not the largest, citrus fruits on this list and comes in two main types: white and red. 

The color refers to the flesh rather than the skin. Both types are around the size of a softball (on average), have a yellow to pinkish-orange color with tight, and are hard to peel skin. The flavor ranges from sour to sweet-tart, with the red varieties being sweeter than the white. The red varieties are not only sweeter, but they also have up to 25 percent more vitamin C than their white counterparts. 

One interesting fact about the Grapefruit is its interaction with numerous prescription drugs. While I drink it with joyful abandon, if you’re on any type of medication be sure to clear Grapefruit consumption (juiced or whole) with your doctor.  

  • Pomelo
pomelo and grapefruit sitting side by side to show notable size difference
Pomelo is on the right with a grapefruit on the left for comparison…they’re BIG!

Pomelos is a natural (non-hybrid) citrus that originated in Southeast Asia around 100 BC It’s known by a variety of names like Shaddock, Bali Lemon, and Chinese Grapefruit. This big boy averages 3 pounds and can weigh up to a whopping 25 pounds in the wild. 

The flavor is similar to a sweet grapefruit and is highly prized all over Southeast Asia, frequently as a part of festivals and celebrations. Aside from its large size, the Pomelo is identified by its thick yellow-green skin that grows tightly against the white or pink flesh. 

Unlike the Grapefruit, the membranes are very bitter so are rarely eaten, typically being peeled away by hand and discarded. The juice is amazing, so when you find these monster citrus at your supermarket definitely pick up a few and try the juice out for yourself.

3. Citrus Makes Sunshine in a Glass

carafe of orange juice

The above varieties are just the more common citrus varieties available, but they barely scratch the surface of the wild and wonderful world of winter citrus. Hopefully, I’ve enticed you to put a little sunshine in your glass by trying some yourself. To get started, check out these citrus-centric juice recipes.

Once you juice some of these delicious citruses, drop a line in the comments to tell me what you think and share your favorite citrus-centric recipes! 

About the Author

Brett leads the Juicer Test Kitchen. Utilizing his 25 years in the juice production and formulation industry, he brings you expert information on the wide world of juicing. From hands-on juicer reviews, tasty juice recipes, and real-world insights, he helps you get the most out of your juicing experience.

Brett not only has a career background in the juice world, but he is also a lifelong juicing advocate who has personally transformed and maintained his health using the magical powers of juicing and raw living foods.

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