It’s surprising that in the dead of winter, tropical citrus fruits are in peak season. With the high-quality imports of oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, clementines, lemons and limes, we can enjoy a taste of sunshine at a relatively low price. Truly, for us Canadians who can’t grow citrus en masse, citrus season is a real blessing.
Sweet Oranges: The most common of all citrus fruits. From every day varieties such as Valencia and Navel to the exotic Cara Cara, oranges are sweet and juicy. The majority of oranges that are imported to Canada come from tropical regions such as Florida, California, and sometimes Australia and Brazil. While they are available year round, the most flavourful oranges can be bought from November to April.
Mandarins, Clementines & Tangerines: Much smaller than a regular orange, these little gems pack a flavourful punch and are the perfect on-the-go snack. While these three may look the same, there are some differences in terms of their origins and flavours. Mandarin oranges originated in China (hence the name Mandarin) and have a sweet orange flavour. Mandarins are easy to peel and contain very few seeds. Tangerines, on the other hand, originated in North Africa and are slightly more tart than Mandarin oranges. Tangerines are more likely to contain pesky seeds in them, but are equally as delicious. Finally, clementines originated in southern Europe from the accidental hybridization of Mandarins and Sweet Oranges. Clementines have become very popular in North America (especially around the Christmas season) as they have a sweet yet tart flavour, have no seeds, and are easy to peel.
Tangerines are in peak season from October to January, Clementines from November to January and Mandarins from November to March.
Blood Oranges: Blood Oranges are known for the deep blood-red colour of their flesh. This orange get its pigment from the antioxidant anthocyanin (also found in raspberries, and cherries), not only making it look pretty but also extra good for you. There are a few varieties of blood orange, but the most popular are Tarocco (native to Italy), the Sanguinello (native to Spain), and the Moro, a newly created variety. Depending on the variety, the blood orange can be sweet or tart, but are ripe when their flesh turns a blush-red. Blood Oranges are in season from December to May.
Grapefruit: Hands down, everyone knows Grapefruit for its sourness. The most popular grapefruit that we see in Canada is the Ruby Red grapefruit which has a beautiful pinky-red flesh. There are also other varieties of Grapefruit including the Blanco Oro, which has a yellow-white flesh and is much more sour than the Ruby Red variety. While eating it raw may take some getting used to, grapefruits can be pressed into a refreshing juice- perfect for the beginning of summer. Grapefruits are in season from November to April.
Lemon: Lemons are known for their light yellow flesh and for their sourness- making them very versatile in the kitchen. The addition of lemon juice or lemon zest in any recipe freshens it up. This is key in lighter foods such as salads and fish as well as desserts. Once again there are a few varieties of lemons, but the most popular variety is the traditional Eureka (‘Four Seasons’) variety which is available year-round. Meyer Lemons, another variety, taste like a combo of lemon and orange and is less sour than the traditional variety. Meyer Lemons are in season from November to March.
Lime: Similarly to lemons, limes are a sour citrus that adds freshness to any recipe. They are slightly smaller than lemons, have a green skin and flesh, and have no seeds. The majority of limes imported to Canada come from Mexico and are known as the Mexican Lime variety and are available year-round. Key Limes are another popular variety that are much smaller, but a bit sweeter and are also available year-round.
Buying and Storing
When buying any citrus, ensure that the fruit is shiny, bright in colour, and is bruise and blemish-free. When you pick it up, it should feel heavy for its size and when you squeeze it, it should give slightly. When the citrus does not give when squeezed, this means that there is more pith (the white flesh) and less fruit- meaning you may want to put it back. Citrus can be stored at room temperature or can be refrigerated.
Apart from freshly squeezed juices, there are a variety of sweet and savoury dishes that can be made with citrus fruit. Here are some of my favourites:
Broiled Grapefruit with Ginger and Honey
A light a refreshing breakfast that satisfies sweet, sour and spicy cravings.
Roasted Lemon Chicken
This roast chicken is stuffed with lemon, garlic and onion and rubbed with butter and rosemary. Sitting on top of a bed of roasted lemons, onion and carrots, what else could you possibly want for Sunday dinner?
This is a great DIY recipe that you can make in under 5 minutes. Simply blend lemon zest (or any citrus zest that you like) with sugar until combined- and there you have it! Use this lemon sugar in tea or in your favourite dessert for an extra lemony kick!