January is peak citrus season. And with the cold temperatures and short days of winter, including citrus in your diet is great way to get a healthy start on the new year. Here is a guide and some facts to help you choose the piece of citrus that’s right for you!
For fresh eating, navel oranges are the standard. They’re sweet, juicy, easy to peel and segment, and they’re seedless. The organic navels you’ll see at the Co-op are the Washington variety, and will be coming from the southern and central California citrus regions, where the dry sunny days and cool nights create the ideal climate for navels and other citrus. Typically, the navel season runs November through May. January is peak season for navels, and is the time to look for deals on the best product. Look for weekly specials on both bulk and bagged navels in January.
Blood (Moro) Oranges
We should start to see some blood oranges coming in this month. Our favorites have been coming from Beck’s Grove, a small biodynamic farm located just north of San Diego. Their biodynamic methods have consistently been producing staff’s favorite blood orange. The deep red flesh of the blood orange is a result of high concentrations of anthrocyanins, a powerful antioxidant.
Blood oranges have an intense orange/tropical/berry flavor. I love them; they’re great for eating fresh, but even more fun in the kitchen! Use a slice as a striking garnish to a salad or a drink. Their juice is incredible, and makes for excellent salad dressings and marinades.
Rio Star Grapefruit
Texas Rio Stars are our favorite grapefruit. No other variety on the market compares; they’re in a class of their own.
The Rio Star was developed at the Texas A&M Citrus Center. It is the result of selectively breeding the Rio Red and Star Ruby varieties for the sweetest, deepest red-fleshed fruit.
Rio Stars have only been available since the mid-’80s. If you’re not fond of grapefruit, and haven’t tried a Rio Star, you should. For several produce staff, including myself, this is our favorite piece of citrus, and we look forward to receiving our first shipments every year.
Rio Stars usually start shipping in November, and in a good year, remain available through March and into April. They’re excellent fresh on their own, but again, if you like to cook, there are endless possibilities with the Rio Star; marinades, desserts, salads, salsa, and even on the grill!
Kumwhats? The best of these little gems come from Beck’s Grove, the same biodynamic farm that produces our best blood oranges and Meyer lemons. They’re generally available from January through May, and are perhaps one of the more mysterious citrus specimens we offer.
Kumquats are native to China and Japan, and look like little tiny oblong oranges, anywhere from an inch to two inches long. You eat the skin and all. Don’t let the size fool you: the flavor is intense! The skin is sweet, and the flesh is sour. The trick is to chew as fast as you can to balance the sour with the sweet.
Kumquats are a great addition to both fruit salads and green salads. You can eat them as a fresh snack, or use them in jellies and marmalade.
Satsuma and Clementine Mandarins
The best Satsuma and Clementines at the Co-op are coming to us from Johansen Ranch, located in the Sacramento Valley of northern California. The Johansen Family has been in the citrus business since 1910, and their efforts consistently yield the finest quality product I’ve ever tasted.
Visually, there’s not much of a difference between the two; they look like miniature oranges. Both are considered mandarins, a cross between a tangerine and an orange. They are sweet, juicy, and easy to peel. We find the Satsuma often has a sharp, more defined tangerine flavor, and a hint of tartness. The Clementine is a bit more subtle and mellow, with more pronounced sugars. Both are excellent. However, for die-hard fans, there’s a peculiar rivalry between the two. I don’t know—maybe it’s an East Coast/West Coast thing?
It’s believed both originated in China. The Satsuma made its way to the Satsuma province of Japan, where it was originally cultivated exclusively for royalty. The Clementine was first discovered by westerners in Algeria, and became widely cultivated in both Spain and Morocco. California is the leading producer of both in the U.S., however, we still hear, “Got any of those Spanish Clementines?” all the time.
Here’s where the East Coast/West Coast rivalry comes into play. Historically Clementine imports arrived from Spain at ports along the eastern seaboard, where local consumers eagerly awaited the arrival of these exotic little oranges around the holidays. Much of what arrived there stayed there. Satsumas, on the other hand, need very specific growing conditions, and were not as well suited to the citrus growing regions of the southern U.S. Satsuma production became exclusive to the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys of CA. Satsuma on the West, Clementine on the East.
Unfortunately, the domestic Clementine and Satsuma season is fairly short. Satsuma usually hit the market in November, and may last through mid to late January depending on harvest volume and demand. Clementine usually arrive mid-December, and last through January and into early February. Both are versatile in the kitchen, and make a great snack. Kids love them. I’ve watched my two-year-old eat a half dozen Satsuma at one sitting.
The Minneola Tangelo is a cross between a mandarin orange and a pomelo (an ancestor of the grapefruit). Minneola are identifiable by the knob-like formation on their stem end, and their deep orange color.
Minneola have an intense tart-sweet flavor, and can be extremely juicy. They peel easily, and although they may have a few seeds, most are seedless. The first Minneola to hit the market are often a bit on the tart side of the spectrum. As their season progresses, so does their sugar content, creating a better balance for the palette. Although not as intense as the Kumquat, Minneola pack a citrus punch. They have a great sweet orange flavor along with the acidic zip of a grapefruit.
Minneola usually hit the market by mid-month, just when the Satsuma and Clementine seasons are finishing up, and are available through February and into March. We’ll be keeping an eye out for the peak season premium product, and when it arrives, look for a sale!
The perfect pick
Regardless of what type of citrus you’re shopping for, there are some simple strategies you can use to ensure you are getting a high-quality product. The fruit should have vibrant color, be fairly firm, and feel heavy for its size. If the skin is dehydrated and has small brown spots, the fruit is usually old. It may still taste good, however, as with all fresh fruits and vegetables, nutritional value becomes compromised with age.
In general, larger fruit is sweeter. This rule is not always true, but in general, larger fruit has been on the tree longer, is more mature, and has had more time to develop its brix (sugars).
Storing your citrus in the refrigerator will help maintain its integrity. If you plan on eating your purchase within a couple of days, it will be fine on your counter.
And, as always, we encourage you to check in with Produce staff to find out what’s really good right now. We are constantly tasting product and comparing brands. When we find something incredible, we’re eating as much as we can while it lasts. Products like the Rio Star Grapefruit, and Johansen Ranch’s Satsuma and Clementine are consistent through their season; they’re great every time you get one. Everything else tends to vary; one week navels are great, the next week they’re fair. Minneola are sour from one orchard, and sweet from another. To meet demand, our distributors work with dozens of orchards, and some are able to produce better tasting fruit than the others. It’s not that they’re better growers, it’s often that conditions happened to be just right to produce a superior crop. If you’re wondering what’s good, just ask.
A taste if sunshine
So, stop in and treat yourself, your loved ones, and your friends to a little taste of sunshine, and have a happy, healthy, new year!