The Book of Citrus

Jonathan Sauer, in his book Historical Geography of Crop Plants: A Select Roster, notes that “Almost nothing is certain about the natural geography and ecology of truly wild citrus. Both the distribution and genetics of the genus have been drastically modified in Asia by human intervention.”   Citrus is believed to have originated somewhere in Southeast Asia or Southern China, but it has naturally evolved and hybridized itself so that it is hard to find its pure roots.  Generally speaking, there are some types of citrus that have emerged over time into distinct groups.

Limes, Pommelos, and Mandarins are three main groupings of citrus that can be seen as parents to some of the modern citrus we eat today. Lemons are natural hybrids of Limes and Citrons.   Grapefruits are crosses of Pommelos and sweet oranges.   Mandarins are the family from which most of the orange fruits originate. From Tangelos, a cross between a mandarin and grapefruit, to Satsumas and Valencia Oranges (another Pommelo and mandarin cross), variations of mandarin citrus are grown and enjoyed worldwide. Mandarins were cultivated widely in Asia early on, which gave us the many variations we eat today. It wasn’t until the 17th century that citrus was cultivated outside of Asia.

I think that one of the most interesting distinctions in terms of taste is the comparison between Tangelos like the Minneola or the Royal Mandarin (in which you can pick up a grapefruit note pretty clearly) and the more tangerine-kinds of mandarins such as the Satsuma, Pixie, or Murcot (which have more sharp and sweet flavors). Both are considered mandarins but their tastes vary wildly. Also, as always, check out our website to see what’s in your mix this week at – click on the ladybug icon.

Enjoy and be fruitful! – Chris Mittelstaedt

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