General and History
Most citrus fruits we are familiar with are crosses between two or more
other citrus varieties. Citrus is highly promiscuous and doesn't respect
even species boundaries. There are four wild true-breeding species from which
all the others are derived:
Botanists are suspicious that even these four may not be "pure", but they
don't know what they might be derived from.
- Citrus aurantifolia - Key lime.
- Citrus maxima - Pomelo.
- Citrus medica - Citron.
- Citrus reticulata - Mandarin / Tangerine.
Commercial propagation is generally by cuttings because what you'll
get from seeds is highly unreliable, and some varieties don't have seeds.
Citrus has a casual attitude toward cross breeding and impromptu variation
that rivals even that of the notorious nightshades. Trying to make proper order
out of it all is problematic, so some of my practical categorizations here
may not be strictly correct botanically - but the botanists can't agree with
each other anyway.
Calamansi - [Calamondin, X Citrofortunella
A tiny citrus fruit similar to an orange but more sour, widely planted
in Southeast Asia and particularly the Philippines. A cross between
a kumquat and a mandarin, it is not known in the wild and isn't much grown
in the U.S. because it is very frost tender. In the Philippines and Southeast
Asia it is used green to make preserves and ripe to make fruit syrup, juice
and as a flavoring for meat.
In Southern California and Hawaii they're often available in Philippine
markets, but the cost is too high for uses that call for a lot of them.
Calamansi juice can be found in the frozen food cases at Philippine markets,
but if you can't get it use 3 parts lemon juice, 1 part orange juice.
That'll be a little sweeter than real Calamansi, but close enough for
Citron - [Citrus medica]
Native to Persia and Media, the Citron was the first citrus fruit brought
to Europe, thus gave its name to the whole genus. Citrons are barely edible
with a thick lumpy rind and what little flesh they may have is dry and full
of seeds. The aromatic oils of its thick peel are widely used for flavoring
drinks, perfumes, etc. The peel itself is often cut into strips and candied
for use in making fruitcakes - also widely considered inedible.
Citron - Buddha's Hand - [Fingered Citron]
This mutation apparently originated in Northeastern India and is popular
as a curiosity. It has no seeds and no or very little juiceless flesh. The
rind is, as with other citrons, highly aromatic.
In the West the fingers are used as peel would be, but also can be thinly
sliced for salads and the like. The white pith is not bitter as it is in
most citrus so can be included with the yellow zest. In Asia it is used
to perfume rooms and personal items.
Photo by Voyou Desoeuvre distributed under
Commons v2.0 license.
Citron - [Etrog (Hebrew)]
These fruits are fairly large and can grow up to 6 inches long, but the
rind is very thick and what little flesh they may have is dry and full
of seeds. Shape and skin texture varies greatly depending on where on the
tree the fruit grew. The citron was known during Roman times, at first for
medicinal purposes, to repel insects and as a perfume, but by the 2nd
century CE was being used in cooking as well. The peel is candied for use
in fruitcakes and other baked goods and is featured in the Hebrew holiday
Photo by Yankelowitz contributed to the public domain.
Curry Leaf -
[Kari Leaf; Karuveppilai (Tamil, Malay (Black Neem Leaf)); Kari Patta (Hindi);
R. Murraya koenigii]
Essential to the cuisines of Southern India and Sri Lanka this citrus
leaf has no substitute and is not worth much dried. Fortunately it is now
grown in Southern California and can be had fresh from most Indian markets,
at least around here. They keep only a few of weeks refrigerated and not as
long as you'd expect in the freezer. The tree bears pea sized black berries
but I've not heard of them being used for cooking.
Details & Cooking.
Grapefruit - see Pomelo and Grapefruit.
Kumquat - [R. Fortunella
japonica and other Fortunella species]
These small fruits, belonging to the genus Fortunella, originated
in China. Most common in the U.S. are the Nagami (oval) and Marumi (round).
The kumquat has a sweet rind and sour flesh, just the opposite of the closely
related citrus fruits. In the U.S. it is generally eaten raw in salads, used
in place of olives in martinis, or made into marmalade and the shrub is a
common backyard ornamental in Southern California. They are in season from late
autumn to mid-winter but are generally available most of the year. The photo
specimens were typically 1-3/8 inches long, 1 inch diameter and weighed 1/2
Lemons are the favored acid fruit in sub-tropical climates being a bit
more cold tolerant than the lime. Eureka / Lisbon lemons are somewhat less
acid than limes.
Eureka & Lisbon Lemon - 
These are the standard commercial lemons grown in California, juicy with
high acidity and few seeds. In the store the varieties are indistinguishable
but on the tree the Eureka are at the tips of branches and the Lisbon
farther in behind the leaves, thus better in marginal weather locations.
The photo specimens were typically 2-5/8 inches in diameter and weighed
Meyer Lemon - 
Popular in California back yards this cross between a lemon and a
mandarin is less sour than Eureka and has a bit of tangerine flavor. It
has an oval shape and a thin skin that's quite orange compared to other
lemons. It is not marketed widely because its a bit soft and keeping
properties are not as good as other lemons. The photo specimens were
typically 2-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed 4-3/4 ounces.
Ponderosa Lemon - [Football Lemon]
The giant of the lemon world, it's actually a cross between a lemon
and a citron. This small tree is grown mainly as an ornamental but the
fruit has good lemon flavor and produces a lot of juice. The fruit is
roughly spherical with a thick bumpy skin and can weigh up to 2 pounds.
Preserved Lemon - [Lemon Pickle]
An essential for Near Eastern and particularly North African cuisine, these
lemons can be found packed in jars in markets serving a Near Eastern
community. They are generally about the size of a key lime or a bit larger.
The photo specimens, from Egypt, were typically 1-3/8 inches diameter and
weighed 3/4 ounce. You can make these yourself using the larger American
lemons. Details & Cooking.
Sweet Lemon - var. Pomona
Ready to squeeze lemonade! There are several varieties of sweet lemon
used in the Mediterranean and India, but as far as I can tell the Pomona
variety (originating in Pomona, California) is the one sold commercially
here. The flesh has a touch of the flavor of Kaffir
Lime and even the skin is edible, not bitter as with most lemons.
The photo specimens were typically 2-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed
While lemons are the major acid citrus in the subtropical world, their
place is taken by limes in the tropics. Limes are somewhat more acid than
lemons. They turn yellow-green when fully ripe but are always marketed while
still dark green.
Key Lime - [Mexican Lime, West Indian Lime, Kaghzi nimbu
(India), Limum baladi (Egypt), doc (Morocco), Gallego lime (Brazil),
Limon corriente (Latin America), C. aurantifolia]
Small and highly aromatic, these are what limes are in most of the world.
The photo specimens were typically 1.4 inches in diameter and weighed
Persian Lime - [Tahiti Lime, Bearss Lime, C. latifolia]
This large lime, probably a cross between a lime and a citron, is the
primary lime grown in California. It found its way to the Mediterranean
through Persia and to California through Tahiti. It's slightly less aromatic
than the key lime but tests with key lime pies found little difference
except the large Persians were a lot less work. The photo samples were
typically 2-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed 5-3/4 ounces.
Kaffir Lime - [makrut (Thai),
Krauch Soeuch (Cambodia), Limau Purut (Malay), Citrus hystrix]
Not really a lime, this fruit is native to Southeast Asia and used
particularly in Thai Cuisine. The odd double leaves are most used,
often in soups, but the rind of the fruit is used in Thai curry pastes.
The rind is also used to flavor rum in Réunion and Madagascar.
Many references say the juice is inedible but I do not find that the case,
though there isn't a lot of juice in a kaffir lime.
The shrub makes a very nice and
useful decorative which can be grown in a container, so many nurseries
stock them. When fully ripe, the fruit turns just a touch yellowish and
falls from the tree but it is generally used before that stage.
Details and Cooking
Finger Lime - [, C. australasica]
This shrub grows wild in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia where
there is now some cultivation in Australia. It is also now being grown on
a small scale in California.because of demand from the fancy chef set.
It is unique in several ways, other than its shape. The juice vesicles
separate completely into separate beads, called "citrus caviar", which
is becoming popular as a garnish on expensive servings. These vesicules
burst with a spurt of juice very similar to regular lime juice.
Finger limes also come in a wide range of colors: green, yellow, orange,
red, purple, pink, black and brown.
Photo by Zaareo distributed under license Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
Dried Limes - [Black Lime, Amani, Omani (Persia), Loomi, Lumi
An important item in the cuisines of Persia (Iran) and countries that
have been under Persian influence. Limes are boiled in salt water, then
sun dried. Used in lentil, rice or meat dishes they may be crushed or may
simply be pierced and added whole to slow simmering dishes to provide
tartness and a citrus fragrance. The hard outer shell contains mainly a
dry black powder.
Limequat - [C. x floridana]
A cross between a Kumquat and a
Lime. Greenish yellow when mature, it has a sweet rind and slightly bitter
pulp like a Kumquat but with a distinctly lime flavor. It is grown in small
quantities in California and Florida and can sometimes be found during the
autumn and winter months.
Photo released to the public domain.
Limonia - [Wood apple, Elephant
apple, Monkey fruit, R. Limonia acidissima]
Native to South and Southeast Asia from Pakistan to Java and as far south as
Sri Lanka, this fruit has a rind so hard it can be carved into utensils.
The fruit can be up to 3-1/2 inches in diameter and when cracked emits a
strong citrus aroma from its sticky brown pulp. It is eaten plain, made into
beverages and deserts and preserved as jam. The bark yields an edible gum
used as a thickener and various parts of the tree are used medicinally.
Photo released into the publicc domain.
[Lime berry, R. Triphasia trifolia]
Native to Malaysia, this fruit is now grown in other subtropical and tropical
regions of the world for it's fruit. The fruit can be up to 5/8 inch in
diameter and resembles a small citrus fruit. It has a sweet citrus like
flavor and a juicy, somewhat mucilaginous pulp. It is used similar to
citrus and may be pickled or made into jams.
kybrdgal subject to attribution.
[Sour Orange, Seville Orange, Bigarade, Citrus aurantium]
A native of Southeast Asia, this was the only type of orange known in
Europe until after 1500 and now grows cultivated or wild in most
subtropical areas of the world. A large portion of the crop is shipped to
England and Scotland for the manufacture of marmalade. Peel and oil also
find extensive use in flavorings for liquors, candies and the like. It is
a popular herbal remedy, said to provide a "safe" form of Ephedrine,
but this safety is not medically proven.
The most available variety in the U.S. and Europe is the Seville
Orange which has a lumpy rind and very tart flesh. It's less sour than a
lemon and has a distinctly orangy flavor, but it isn't something most people
would want to eat out of hand. In Florida they are used for making pies.
Details & Cooking
Blood Orange - [#4381 Citrus sinensis]
There are a number of red fleshed "blood" oranges but the Moro variety,
possibly of Sicilian descent, is the most commonly grown in California and
has the deepest color. Blood oranges are currently an "in item" and in good
supply when in season, which runs from January to May. The color, caused
by anthocyanin pigments (the same as in grapes and red cabbage) deepens as
the season progresses. The photo specimens were typically 2-5/8 inch
diameter and weighed 5 ounces.
Navel Orange - [Citrus sinensis]
This orange was discovered in Brazil and brought to California where it is
a major crop variety. The distinguishing feature is a second, partially
developed orange embedded in the flower end of the fruit. This causes an
indentation or projection resembling a human navel at the flower end.
This is large orange with a thick easily peeled rind, no seeds and the
segments separate very easily making
it a desirable eating orange. Older trees produce fruit with a thicker
pith layer in the rind. Navels are not used for juice because the juice
turns bitter if not used right away. The photo sample was 4-1/4 inches
in diameter and weighed 1 pound 3 ounces (I have bought them up to 2
pounds). Available from November to around April.
Seville Orange - see Bitter Orange.
Valencia Orange - [Citrus sinensis]
The most widely grown varieties of orange in the U.S. and accounting for
about half of all oranges grown. Florida Valencias are mainly
juice varieties but California Valencias tend to be larger and more
peelable so they can substitute for navel oranges when those are out of
season. Valencias are available most of the year. The photo specimens,
from Texas and sold as juice oranges, were typically 3-1/4 inches diameter
and weighed 8-1/2 ounces. They tasted exactly like orange juice.
A cross between a Kumquat and a
Orange. It has a sweet rind and slightly bitter pulp like a Kumquat but
is quite a bit larger with a distinctly orange flavor.
Pomelos & Grapefruit
Grapefruit - [Citrus x paradisi]
This cross between a Pomelo and an Orange, originally found in Barbados,
is named from the way the fruit clusters on the branches. The grapefruit
is now grown primarily in Florida and Texas and in many varieties within
three broad categories: white, pink and red. The whites tend to be very
sour, even a little bitter while the reds tend to be quite sweet and the
pinks somewhere in between - but there are exceptions. Grapefruits are
mainly used as a breakfast fruit and as juice, often mixed with other
juices. Caution: grapefruit can greatly speed up absorption of
certain drugs resulting in unexpected overdose. The photo example, a
sweet red grapefruit, was 4-1/4 inches in diameter and weighed 1
pound 1 ounce.
Grapefruit - Cocktail Grapefruit
This cross between a Pomelo and a Frua Mandarin is smallish, has lots of
seeds and is very sweet with little of the distinctive grapefruit taste, in
fact it tastes like a cross between a Pomelo and a Mandarin. They are quite
juicy but the membranes are fragile and the flesh soft so if you try to
eat one with a grapefruit spoon it will kind of mush up. They are best
squeezed for juice. The larger of
the photo specimens was 2-3/4 inches in diameter and weighed 13-1/2 ounces.
A cross between a Siamese Sweet Pomelo and a white grapefruit developed
at the University of California, Riverside. Early versions were green and
didn't sell well here but are now marketed in Israel (see
Sweetie). The market from which I buy them calls them
"Pomelo Grapefruit". They have sweet flesh but the thick
rind and membranes have a bitterness inherited from the pomelo. The photo
specimen was 5-5/8 inches diameter and weighed 15-1/4 ounces.
Pomelo - [Jabong, Shaddock, Chinese Grapefruit,
Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis]
Native to Southeast Asia, the Pomelo is now grown in tropical and
subtropical areas all over Asia and the Pacific Islands as well as in
California and Florida. The flesh may be pale yellow to red
depending on variety (generally pale yellow in California) and tastes like
a very mild sweet grapefruit. The rind tends to be very thick and
distinctly bitter as are the membranes. Pomelo rind is considered very
good for candying and is sometimes made into marmalade.
Sweetie - 
A cross between a Pomelo and a Grapefruit developed in California but
now grown mostly in Israel. It's actually an earlier version of the
Oroblanko which didn't take off here due to it's green
color. In Israel they've marketed green as a feature. It's sweeter than
a grapefruit and has the pomelo's thick rind.
Yotam distributed under
Commons v2.5 license.
Rue - [Herb of Grace,
R. Ruta graveolens]
Native to southern Europe, genus Ruta is the type genus for the entire
citrus family. Once a significant culinary herb in Rome and the Near East,
rue has declined greatly in use due to changing tastes (it is intensely bitter).
In Europe and North America it is now grown mainly as a decorative, but is
used in cooking in North Africa, particularly Ethiopia where both
leaves and berries are used.
Rue does still appear in some traditional recipes in Greece and is used
as a flavoring for certain alcoholic beverages. It has a number of medicinal
uses and is reputed to be a powerful inducer of abortion. Ironically, it is
the national herb of Lithuania and associated with virginity and maidenhood
Sichuan Peppercorn -
[Flower Pepper, Prickly Ash (eng), jiao (china)
R. Zanthoxylum piperitum, Z. simulans]
Dried fruits of the Chinese prickley ash tree. These "peppercorns" are
essential to the famous Sichuan cuisine of China and a similar fruit is
important in Nepal. They are quite unique with a remarkably sharp, citrusy
flavor and a numbing anesthetic effect on the tongue. Other countries have
related species with flavors that vary more or less from the Chinese. Some of
these are listed at Details and Cooking.
Tangerine / Mandarin & Related -
Tangerines originated in China, but got the name "Tangerine" from having
first been shipped to Europe through the port of Tagier, Morocco.
- Tangerine and Mandarin are synonymous.
- Tangelo: is a cross between a mandarin and a pomelo or
- Tangor: is a cross between a mandarin and an orange.
Clementine - [Algerian tangerine, Kalamintina (Arab)]
The world's most popular tangerine, mostly grown in Spain and
North Africa (particularly Morocco), is now planted in California and
Florida. Clementines are somewhat flattened in shape, easy to peel and
have medium sweet juicy flesh in easy to separate segments. If Clementine
trees are pollinated by other citrus varieties yield is greatly increased
but the fruit will have seeds. The photo specimens were typically 2-1/2
inches diameter and weighed 3 ounces.
In California mandarins are simply sold loose and unprocessed, except
Clementines. These are coaed with wax or resin to extend shelf life and
packed in bags and boxes sold at a fixed weight (usually 5 pounds)
for a fixed price, usually a rather high fixed price. I presume this
packaging makes them easier and more profitable to export to the East
Ellendale Tangor - [#3032]
This Australian variety shows up in California stores in the second half
of September. It has a loose easy to peel skin, segments separate easily
and it is very sweet and juicy. It does have a moderate number of seeds.
The photo specimens were typically 3-5/8 inches diameter and weighed
Fairchild Mandarin - 
This cross between a Clementine tangerine and an Orlando tangelo is
heavily planted in California and Arizona desert regions and is the
first variety to ripen in tangerine season (October through January).
They are roughly spherical but flattened on the flower end. They have
seeds and the thin skin is relatively difficult to peel but hey are quite
sweet and have excellent flavor. The photo specimens were typically
2.3 inches in diameter and weighed 3-3/8 ounces.
Fallglo Tangarine - [#3144; (tangerine x tengelo) x
(tangarine x orange)]
This variety, typically grown in Florida, starts to appear in stores in
mid October and reaches optimum flavor near the end of November. The
tight peel is 1/8 to 3/16 inch thick and moderately easy to peel,
particularly if you start from the stem end. The segments are easy
to separate. This tangarine is sweet-tart and very juicy, similar to an
orange but with some tangarine flavor. It often, but not always, has a
distinct navel, as shown in the photo, and typically has between 20 and
40 seeds. This is a new variety released by the USDA Horticultural
Station in 1989. It is thought to be 5/8 tangerine, 1/4 orange and 1/8
grapefruit. The photo specimens were typically 3-1/8 inches in diameter
and weighed 7-1/2 ounces.
Developed at the University of California Riverside this is now the most
planted mandarin in Pakistan and Punjab, but some are grown in California
too. It is smooth skinned, slightly flattened at the ends, and while the
skin is much tighter than with most mandarins it is still easily peelable
and the segments separate fairly easily. The flesh is orange, seedy,
very juicy, aromatic, sweet and richly flavored.
The peel has a fair
amount of oil so it's good to use where tangarene peel is needed and it
dries well. This
is an excellent all-around cooking and eating mandarin. The
California crop becomes available in January and runs until April.
The photo specimens were about 2-7/8 inches diameter and weighed
Minneola Tangelo - [Honeyball]
A cross between the Duncan grapefruit and Dancy mandarin this tangelo
presents a bit of the tartness of it's grapefruit parent. The skin is
thin and tight but it is peelable. Cross pollination produces higher yields
than unpollinated trees but then there will be seeds in the fruit. The
largest of the photo specimens was 3 inches in diameter and weighed 7.8
ounces. These are available from mid December through April and will be
sweeter towards the end of the season.
Murcott Tangerine - [Honey Tangerine]
Under the "Honey Tangerine" name this is the most grown late season
tangor in Florida and is grown in California under its real name,
Murcott. It's origin is
unknown but it's thought to be a cross between a tangerine and a sweet
orange, first grown by the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) around
1916. This very sweet Tangor is a slightly flattened sphere, the skin is
smooth and peels very well to reasonably well, variable within a batch,
and the segments separate easily. Some will be seedless but others will
have a few seeds. The largest in the photo (back left) was 3
inches diameter and weighed 5 ounces, though 3-1/2 ounces.is more typical.
Orlando Tangelo - [PLU 4456]
This tangelo is a cross between a Duncan grapefruit and a Dancy mandarin.
These will have a few seeds and the skin is tight - peelable but with
more difficulty than others in this category. They are available from
November through January.
Royal Mandarin - [Temple Orange, PLU 4455]
These fairly large tangors have a thin, close fitting skin but it
peels very easily and the segments separate easily. The skin is slightly
pebbled and and slightly depressed at the flower end, flavor is quite
sweet, almost spicy, and they have few or no seeds. Found in
Jamaica as a naturally occurring tangor, they are grown in Florida and in the
warmest inland valleys of California - available from mid January
through February. The photo specimens were typically 3 inches in diameter
and weighed 7-1/2 ounces.
Satsuma Mandarin - [Unshu Mikan (Japan), Wenzhou Migan (China)]
This variety was originally found in China but brought to the U.S.
from Japan. Most grown in China now are also varieties brought back from
Japan. There are many varieties grown in the U.S. but the Owari Satsuma
is the most common. They have a very loose skin and are extremely easy to
peel but the flesh is easily bruised and the loose skin may conceal damage.
These mandarins are juicy with good sweet flavor and ease of peeling
makes them particularly desirable so efforts are being made to extend their
short season of availability.
The photo specimens were typically 2-7/8 inches in diameter and weighed
5.7 ounces. They are available from mid October through December.
Satsuma Mandarin - Green
I found these in the market in early October so they're about as early
season as mandarins get.They seemed to me a bit less sweet than regular
satsumas, but I didn't have the opprtunity to do a direct comparison.
Same size and shape as the regular satsumas but the skin is definitely
Now this is just ridiculous - a tangarine that weighs over a pound! That
big guy on the left was 1 pound 3-5/8 oz, 3 inches high and 4-5/8 inches
in diameter, about the size of a medium navel orange. Even the smallest
of the batch (cut open) weighed 10 ounces. Yet they're all a tangarine
should be: easy to peel, easy to segment, juicy, very sweet, tasty and
seedless. Formerly TDE2 it was released by the University of California
as Shasta Gold in 2002. They mature from mid-February to mid-March but
hold on the tree well so can be found as late as early May.
Ugli Fruit - [Uniq, Citrus reticulata
x Citrus paradisi].
A tangelo, a cross between a tangerine and a pomello or grapefruit,
found growing wild in Jamaica, where it is now cultivated. This is a large
fruit, a little smaller than a grapefruit, and has a rough, blotchy rind,
and is at is peak when the green blotches turn mostly orange. The rind
is loose and the flesh juicy and sweet, more like a tangerine than a
grapefruit. They are in season from December to April when they are
exported to the US and Europe. I've never seen one in California, which
isn't surprising considering the citrus import restrictions here (designed
to protect the huge California citrus industry from imported bugs and
Photo copyright i0088.
White Sapote -
[Sleep Sapote; Zapote Blanko (Spanish); Cochitzapotl (Nahuatl =
sleep-sapote); Casimiroa edulis]
Native to Eastern Mexico and Central America, this tree became a popular
decorative in Southern California in the 1920s - a popularity which waned
rapidly as the trees matured and started dropping a couple thousand pounds
of sticky fruit on people's patios. Mine is still small and only produces
a little over 100 pounds of fruit a year. The fruit is sweet and mild, with
a hint of banana, vanilla, peach or pear depending on variety. It is not
very marketable because it is extremely tender when ripe and the ripe to
over-ripe time is very short.
It has been known since pre-Colombian times that eating this fruit induces
drowsiness. A tea made from the seeds is said to be an effective sleep potion
without noticeable side effects (I haven't tried it yet). This tree is not
to be confused with the Black Sapote, which is a varity of persimon, or the
Mamey Sapote, of family Sapotaceae.
Yuzu - [Yuja (Korea);
Citrus ichangensis x C. reticulata var. austera]
Believed to be a cross between a sour mandarin and an Ichang papeda
(Ichang lemon, Citrus ichangensis), this
citrus native to East Asia is usually about 2-1/2 inches in diameter though
can grow to almost 4 inches. It is relatively cold tolerant so able to be
grown in Japan. The flavor is similar to grapefruit with hints
of mandarin but it is seldom eaten. The zest is used as a garnish and the
juice is used similarly to lemon juice, particularly in the Japanese sauce
ponzu. Oil from the peel is marketed as a fragrance.
Photo by Titanium22 distributed under license
Commons Attribution v2.5.