Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

Photography by Tyllie Barbosa | Food Styling by Cindy Melin

With roots in India and China, it’s believed that the varieties of citrus available today are ancient hybrids and crosses of just three types – citron, mandarin and pummelo. With too many varieties to name, lemons, limes and oranges are only the beginning.

Sunny and fragrant Meyer lemons deliver subtle lemon flavor with a sour-sweet finish. Kaffir limes’ edible leaves and notably sour juice are well-suited for savory dishes and are commonly used in Thai cuisine. With characteristically loose skin, mandarin oranges like Satsumas and Clementines are easy to peel and perfect for little hands and lunch boxes.

Fat-, sodium- and cholesterol-free, citrus fruits are one of the best sources of vitamin C – an antioxidant and key nutrient for collagen production and healthy immune function. People with high intake of vitamin C from foods may have a lower risk of some cancers. Vitamin C also enhances iron absorption from plant-based foods. And that’s just a drop of what these juicy gems have to offer.

Citrus fruits deliver unrivaled flavor in the kitchen. Whether using citrus pulp, juice or zest, the acidity enhances and helps bring out other flavors in both sweet and savory dishes. An ideal complement to seafood and chicken dishes, citrus can also be used to brighten marinades, vinaigrettes and desserts.

With a few exceptions, citrus fruits are perfectly portable and ideal for snacking. Select fruit that is heavy for its size and free of soft or brown spots. Thanks to a protective rind, citrus fruits keep well. Store at room temperature for a few days or refrigerate up to two weeks. Though many can be found year-round, most citrus fruits peak during fall and winter.


Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

More likely preserved than fresh in the produce aisle, citron is one of the oldest citrus fruits. The pulp can be acidic or sweet and, unlike other citrus fruits, not very juicy. The fragrant leathery rind is commonly candied and used in fruitcake and other sweets, pickled or eaten raw with rice.


Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

Tart and slightly sweet, grapefruit comes in white, pink or red varieties. An excellent source of fiber and vitamin A, one cup of pink grapefruit provides over 100 percent of Daily Value of vitamin C. Packed with pectin, grapefruit makes great jams and jellies. Enjoy it raw, paired with seafood or avocado, or broiled with sugar and fresh mint.


Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

Native to China, these little gems of the citrus family are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C. Eaten whole, the tart pulp and sweet skin offer a contrasting flavor to savor. While often candied or pickled, sliced fresh kumquats are used to thicken sauces and are commonly paired with roasted meats as a chutney.


Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

High in vitamin C, lemons are admired for their sour flavor. Whether using the pulp, juice or zest, this kitchen staple delivers flavor and balance to both sweet and savory dishes. Incredibly versatile, lemons have an affinity for berries, cream and honey as well as seafood and garlic.


Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

One of the most acidic fruits, limes are adored for the juice and zest. Rich in vitamin C with just eight calories per ounce, the juice is a sour base for beverages and a flavor enhancer for savory dishes. Commonly used in Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, lime pairs well with strawberries, tropical fruits and seafood. Dried limes are also used in Persian cuisine as flavoring.


Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

A good source of fiber and potassium, vitamin C-rich oranges range from Valencia and navel varieties to the more rare Cara Cara and anthocyanin-rich blood oranges. Orange juice may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Oranges pair especially well with chocolate.

Pummelo (Shaddock)

Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

Native to Malaysia, pummelo is the largest member of the citrus family, weighing two to three pounds on average. With a sweet, mild flavor, one cup of pummelo delivers almost double the Daily Value of vitamin C and provides folate. Enjoy pummelo peeled and sectioned for breakfast, in salad or in fish or poultry dishes.


Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

A cross between grapefruit, orange and tangerine, tangelos may not look pretty, but they deliver attractive nutrition benefits as an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C — one variety of Jamaican tangelo is even trademarked “ugli fruit.” With a sweet, citrus-y flavor, tangelo is best eaten raw.


Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

Taking their name from Tangiers, Morocco, tangerines are the most common variety of mandarin orange in the United States. Sweet, sour and easy to peel, vitamin C-rich tangerines are perfect eaten out of hand or segmented and served in savory or sweet dishes and even paired with dark chocolate.


Citrus Appeal: Squeeze in Flavor and Nutrition

Native to East Asia, yuzu’s unique sour flavor complements sweeter seafood like scallops and is commonly used in raw preparations like sashimi or ceviche. Most often used in juice form, yuzu is a key ingredient in Japanese ponzu sauce and goes well with caramel, grapefruit and green tea.

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Marisa Moore
Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, is based in Atlanta and specializes in culinary nutrition, communications and consulting. She blogs at Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.