Citrus fruit and plants are known by the name agrumes, which means bitter fruit. Citrus fruit originated in Southeast Asia or Australia thousands of years ago. The three original species in the citrus genus that have been hybridized into most modern commercial citrus fruit are the mandarin orange, pummelo and citron. All common citrus fruits (sweet oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, and so on) were created by crossing those original species. Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, and Juan de Grijavla carried various citrus fruits to the new world in the late 1400′s early 1500′s. Today Florida, California, Arizona and Texas are the major producers of citrus fruit in the United States.
Citrus fruit is grown on large shrubs or evergreen trees 15-40 feet tall which bear fragrant, white flowers. The trees thrive in a consistently sunny, humid environment with fertile soil and adequate rainfall or irrigation. The fruit has a peel (also called the zest), a bitter white pith and juicy segments with a discernibly tart flavor derived from a high level of citric acid. The fruit is ripened on the tree.
Oranges were historically used for their high content of vitamin C, which prevents scurvy. An early sign of scurvy is fatigue. If ignored, later symptoms are bleeding and bruising easily. British sailors were given a ration of citrus fruits on long voyages to prevent the onset of scurvy, hence the British nickname of Limey.
The vitamin C in citrus fruit helps produce collagen, which provides structure and elasticity for your skin and tendons. As an antioxidant, it neutralizes free radicals before they damage healthy cells, which prevents inflammation that can lead to chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.
After consumption, the peel is sometimes used as a facial cleanser.
Citrus fruit intake is associated with a reduced risk of stomach cancer. Also, citrus fruit juices, such as orange, lime and lemon, may be useful for lowering the risk of specific types of kidney stones. Grapefruit helps lower blood pressure because it interferes with the metabolism of calcium channel blockers.
Studies also show that citrus flavonoids may improve blood flow through coronary arteries, reduce the ability of arteries to form blood clots and prevent the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which is an initial step in the formation of artery plaques1.
Citrus fruit can be eaten fresh, made into or added to beverages, marmalade, used in salads, as garnishes, or squeezed over vegetables, seafood or meats.
Types of Citrus Fruit
Bergamot orange – This is a small acidic orange, used mostly for its peel. Used in Earl Grey tea.
Blood Orange – These are sweet, red fleshed oranges and are very popular in Europe.
Clementine, Tangerine or Satsuma – Thin skinned and sweet, these come out of their skins easily.
Calamansi lime – The very sour calamansi looks like a small round lime and tastes like a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It’s very popular in the Philippines.
Citron – This lemon-like fruit may be the progenitor species of modern lemons and limes. The peel is very thick, and the white, spongy portion of the peel is edible.
Grapefruit – Grapefruit is thought to be a hybrid of pummelo and sweet orange that occurred naturally somewhere in the Caribbean between the time of Columbus’ voyages and its introduction to Florida in 1809. They are a large, slightly tart with a rind that is mostly yellow, and often tinged with green or red. Grapefruits are categorized by the color of their pulp: red, pink, or white.
Kaffir Lime – Thai cooks use these golf ball-sized limes to give their dishes a unique aromatic flavor. Kaffir limes have very little juice, and usually just the zest is used.
Key Lime – These are small, round, and seedy, these turn yellow when ripe.
Kumquat – These look like grape-sized oranges, and they can be eaten whole. The flavor is a bit sour and very intense. They peak in the winter months.
Lemon – This very sour citrus fruit is rarely eaten out of hand, but it’s widely used for its juice, rind, and zest. One lemon yields about 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice. Lime – When buying limes, select specimens that are dark green, smaller, thin-skinned, and heavy for their size.
Orange – Florida oranges are juicier, and better suited to squeezing, while California oranges segment more easily and are better for eating out of hand.
Pummelo or Pomelo – This species originates from southeast Asia where it is as common as grapefruit is in the USA. It is much larger and thicker-peeled than grapefruit, but said to have milder flavor.
Seville or Bitter Orange – These are too bitter for eating out of hand, but they make a wonderful orange marmalade and the sour juice is perfect for certain mixed drinks.
Tangelo (Honeybell )- This is a hybrid between tangerine and grapefruit. Large, bell-shaped, they are available during the winter and are very sweet and juicy.
Ugli Fruit – This grapefruit-mandarin cross looks like a grapefruit in an ill-fitting suit. It’s sweet and juicy, though, and simple to eat since the peel comes off easily and the fruit pulls apart into tidy segments that are virtually seedless.