What’s new in citrus fruits? When it comes to the US food market, a lot. This is good news if you work in the foodservice industry and are reading this… Not only will you get the full scoop on unique citrus flavors to add to your recipes, but you will be on the cutting-edge of the latest food trends – and a cut above your competition.
We are all familiar with the tangy, sour tastes of traditional citrus favorites: lemons, limes, oranges, orange juice, and grapefruit. New on the market and already tantalizing consumers’ taste buds are varieties such as citron, kumquat, sudachi, yuzu, and pomelo.
Citrus Fruit History
First, here is a tasty tidbit of citrus trivia: Did you know that despite the vast number of citrus varieties available, they are all ancient hybrids and crossbreeds of just three root types (namely citron, mandarin and pomelo)? Moreover, while relatively new to the Western Hemisphere, citrus fruits first appeared around 4,000 BC in Southeast Asia. Through migration and trade, they made their way to northern Africa and then to the Roman Empire where they were sought by elite members of society. During the Middle Ages, citrus fruit were found throughout Europe, finally reaching the Americas through trade by Spanish explorers. While worldwide trade in citrus fruits did not begin until the 20th century, since then the industry has boomed, with oranges and orange juice topping the list in citrus production.
On a more anecdotal note, the earliest references to oranges appear in ancient Chinese manuscripts and this “golden fruit” has, throughout the ages, been a symbol of eternal love, happiness, and holiness. It is said that Hercules coveted and stole citrus fruit from Hesperides, who believed it to be the primary food of the ancient Greek and Roman gods. To the Saracens it was a symbol of fertility, while to the Japanese citrus blossoms represented chastity. Nostradamus’ writings describe how to use citrus blossoms to make cosmetics, and ancient royals built entire indoor gardens around citrus trees.
Citrus Fruit Alternatives on the Rise
So, what factors account for the recent rise of citrus varieties in the food industry? According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), their popularity is the result of increasing consumer incomes, public preference for healthy food selections, more areas of cultivation, and improvements in produce packaging and transportation.
In addition, not only are citrus fruits one of the best sources of vitamin C, but they are also fat-free, sodium-free, and cholesterol-free, making them ideal for heart-healthy recipes. As an antioxidant and key nutrient for collagen production, they may also aid in lowering the risk of cancer for some consumers.
Citrus Fruit Health Benefits
More specifically, here are some of the many health benefits attributed to citrus fruits:
- Rich in vitamins, especially vitamin C, as well as potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and B vitamins
- Has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
- Contains over 60 varieties of flavonoids and essential oils
- Good source of fiber
- Boasts a higher ratio of soluble to insoluble fiber than other fruits and vegetables
- Increases levels of citrate in the urine, thus lowering the risk of kidney stones
- Studies link citrus fruits to a reduced risk of certain cancers
- Lowers cholesterol levels and blood pressure, thus benefiting heart health
- Has flavonoids that boost brain function, offering protection from neurodegenerative disorders
Citrus for Your Kitchen
A must-have ingredient for your restaurant or catering service, citrus juice, pulp, and rind add zest to your recipes, while their signature acidity helps bring out the flavors in other ingredients. Suitable for both sweet and savory dishes, popular culinary uses for citrus include brightening desserts and marinades, enhancing vinaigrettes, and complementing chicken and seafood dishes. Great for healthy snacking, citrus fruits’ protective rind allows them to keep well and most varieties are available year-round.
Looking at trends shaping the food industry for the coming year, here is what some of the pros have to say about the new citrus:
“Global influences have brought us yuzu, naranja agria, calamansi, pomelos, key limes, mandarins and a dozen tangerine varieties,” says Linda Burum. “Chefs and mixologists are spending a lot of time tweaking flavors, taking advantage of the bitter-sweetness and tart juicy jolt of the fruits.” Linda Burum is the author of the landmark A Guide to Ethnic Food in Los Angeles and a long-time freelance food writer/contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine and other publications.
The new fruits are also making an appearance at bars. Robin Selden (past president of the International Caterers Association and named Chef of the Year 2016 and Caterer of the Year 2017) says: “Buddha’s hand [in the citron family, with many finger-like offshoots] is guaranteed to get a conversation going and they smell great! We love having them on a bar at an event to create curiosity as they look so cool. We candy them and garnish a lemon gin drink that we make with them.”
Finally, according to Chef Nicholas Houlbert of Bluebird London in New York City, the unusual shapes and vibrant colors of new citrus varieties adds intrigue to a meal, and he terms them as “healthy, versatile, exotic and intriguing.”
New Citrus Additions for Your Menu
Here is some important info on some of today’s most popular new citrus picks.
An Asian gem of the citrus family, kumquats are packed with fiber and vitamin C. Meaning ‘gold orange’ in Mandarin, they are eaten whole – the pulp as well as the skin – offering a unique combo of contrasting sweet and tart flavors.
Common culinary uses of kumquat include:
- As an addition to salads, finely sliced
- Stewed with onions and served with cod
- Added to tea by the Taiwanese
- Boiled and used as a soar throat remedy
Pomelo (aka Shaddock)
Originating from Malaysia, pomelo is the largest member of the citrus family, weighing approximately two to three pounds (similar in appearance to but larger than a grapefruit). It received its English name, “shaddock”, after Captain Shaddock from the East India shipping company introduced it to the Barbados. Known for its sweet, mild flavor, one cup of pomelo contains folate and almost double the daily recommended value of vitamin C. It is a tasty addition to salads, poultry and fish dishes, or you can simply add pomelo to your breakfast menu, served peeled and sectioned. Moreover, outside of the kitchen, pomelo leaves can be used for aromatic baths and to extract essential oils and perfumes.
Tip for Chefs: While the pomelo peel is usually discarded, it can be used to make marmalade or added to dessert recipes, candied and dipped in chocolate.
Yuzu, native to East Asia and known for its tart flavor and zesty aroma, has been likened to a cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin orange. Typically used in juice form, much like lemon juice, yuzu is a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine and a welcome addition to a cup of green tea. It is also a key ingredient in making yuzukomachi liquor and other wines, as well as in flavoring sweet cakes and snacks.
Cindy Cosmos, principal flavorist at Bell Flavors & Fragrances calls yuzu a trending fruit flavor, while Donald Wilkes, president and CEO of Blue Pacific Flavors says his company has “been developing authentic, true-to-fruit certified organic flavors” to cater to the rise of exotic citrus and berry fruits. “These include alphonso mango, Japanese yuzu, baobab and lilikoi passionfruit.”
Finally, here is tasty citrus recipe for your customers to savor.
Avocado Citrus Salad
Enjoy the following salad, teeming with taste and Vitamin C.
- 1 lettuce, cut-up
- 2 avocados, cut into cubes
- 1 orange, segmented and cut into cubes
- 1 grapefruit, segmented and cut into cubes
- 2 pears, peeled and cut into cubes
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 tsp salt
When it comes to citrus fruits, lemons, limes and oranges are only the beginning. Add new citrus varieties, packed with flavor and nutrition, to your recipes, and enjoy the satisfied customers who will keep coming back for more.