This March, we’re showing you everything you need to know about cooking with one of our favorite fruity treats: citrus. This content was created in partnership with Food52.
In order not to get bored by the same citrus rotation, it’s important to know your options — from the quotidien (lemons, grapefruit, oranges) to the uncommon (kumquat and pomelo). Here’s what you need to know about various citrus varieties, little and big:Limes: A fully ripened lime is actually yellow, so why are they sold when they’re still green? Yellow limes can develop off-flavors and an unpleasant sour sweetness, whereas unripe green limes achieve the balance of acidity and sweetness that we normally associate with the citrus. There are many varieties of limes to choose from, each with specific characteristics:
Persian Lime: Also known as the Tahiti lime, Persian limes are they kind you typically see in the grocery store. They’re green-yellow in color, seedless, on the small side, and grow well even in dry climates. They have a high yield which makes them a favorite variety around the world.
Key Lime: Key limes are tiny and have a surprising acidity and juiciness for their size. They also are able to turn yellow without a loss of flavor, unlike other limes. Key limes aren’t often commercially available because of their size and the difficulty of picking them from their thorny trees — but they’re worth tracking down if you can.
Kaffir Lime: Native to Southwest Asia, kaffir limes have an intense, almost inedible sour juice and knobby skin. The leaves and rind of the lime are often used in curry pastes and soups across Asia. You can often find frozen kaffir limes and leaves in Asian markets.
Finger Lime: Finger limes hail from Australia and look like fat, squat pickles. Inside, the vesicles of juice pour out of their membranes like pearly caviar. They’re not easy to find, although Californians can sometimes find them at farmers’ markets.
Lemons: Lemons are on the mild side when it comes to tart citrus fruit, which is why they’re so widely used in cooking. The lemons you buy in the grocery store are probably either Eureka or Lisbon fruit, which are known for their seedlessness, relatively thin rind, juiciness, and flavor. You can also find Eurekas with pink flesh for making true pink lemonade!
Meyer Lemon: Though not as easy to find, the rounder, orange-yellow lemons our one of our favorites, for their lower acidity and higher sweetness than others. (Bonus: The entire fruit is edible — even the rind.) You can substitute a Meyer lemon for regular lemons, though it’s best to highlight their delicate flavor in recipes like tarts and focaccia where they can shine.
Kumquat: Kumquats are one of the oldest citrus varieties around, grown in China as far back as the 1100s. They are olive-shaped and have extremely thin, delicate, and sweet skin, but their sour pulp is what defines the fruit. You can eat kumquats as a snack, but they’re also great for candying and marmalades.
Oranges: The quintessential orange is the navel variety. These seedless oranges are in fact clones, all descendant from the same tree and propagated by grafting. The difference between navel oranges occurs because of outside environmental factors, like humidity and temperature. Here are some other oranges you should know:
Blood Orange: Blood oranges look like normal navel oranges until you peel them. Their deep red color comes from the presence of anthocyanins in the fruit’s flesh and is developed with the onset of cooler temperatures at night. Because of this, blood oranges only grow well in a few climates, including Italy and California. Their color also affects how they taste, imparting a deeper, sweeter flavor with notes of raspberry.
Clementines and Tangerines: Clementines and tangerines are part of the larger family of mandarin oranges. Clementines are by far the most popular variety of mandarin for their low acidity, thin skin membranes, and convenience for snacking; tangerines are squat and heavy for their size with a thin skin that dries out easily. They’re also quite seedy, but their intensely sweet juice is worth the effort.
Bergamot: Don’t be fooled — bergamot are not lemons. These incredibly fragrant oranges have a floral, bitter aroma and are famous for their use in Earl Grey tea. Spherical, yellow in color, and with a knobbly skin, they’re a great addition to citrus desserts, quick breads, and juices.
Grapefruit: Grapefruit is a weather-resistant hybrid of the bitter-skinned pomelo (see below) and the sweet orange. Depending on the variety of orange crossed, grapefruit flesh can be yellow, light orange, pink, or red, like in the Ruby Red variety. No matter what, grapefruit has a bitter sweetness that makes them less popular for eating as segments like you would an orange. That’s why you’ll often see them broiled, juiced, or incorporated into baked goods.
Pomelo: Pomelos are simply huge, easily growing up to 8 inches in diameter. They’re native to south Asia and are one of the few widely available citrus that aren’t a hybrid. Their yellow-green skin can be up to an inch thick and houses its blush pink flesh. While the segments have a sweeter flavor than grapefruit, the membranes of the pomelo are extremely bitter, so it’s best to separate the membrane from the flesh when eating.
With so many citrus varieties available, it’s a shame to limit ourselves to a few types. Next time you’re passing through the fruit aisle of your local market, keep an eye out for some of these citrus underdogs — your early spring recipe repertoire will be all the better for it.
Live.Love.Lux Tip: Keep your citrus fresh with adjustable humidity controls in your Electrolux Luxury-glide Crisper Drawers – your lemons and limes will thank you!