In the winter months, citrus fruits lend much-needed brightness and a happy zing to our fruit bowls and to sweet and savory dishes. Of course, we're all familiar with common varieties — like lemons, limes, and oranges — but there are many other types of citrus coming into more common use, with a wide range of flavors, from bitter to sour to sweet, depending on the part actually being used. Here are five varieties you should definitely try.
1. Buddha's Hand
The buddha's hand, or fingered citron, is an alien-looking fruit with finger-like sections that originated in northeastern India or China. A traditional offering in Buddhist temples, the fruit is highly prized for its form and aroma. As there is no juice or pulp, the buddha's hand is only used for its wonderfully fragrant peel. Unlike the lemon, the fruit's pith is not bitter, so the whole thing can be used, making it a perfect candidate for candying. The lemon blossom fragrance is also fantastic when infused in alcohols such as vodka and gin. Or take it one step further and make a buddha's hand limoncello!
Along with the mandarin orange, citron, and papeda, the pomelo is one of the core ancestral citrus species from which most other cultivated varieties come from. This large citrus fruit is often pale green to yellow when ripe, with a sweet, fragrant grapefruit-like flavor. The fruit has very little of the grapefruit bitterness, however, and is a wonderful alternative for those who typically stay away from grapefruits. Try pomelo in place of the standard grapefruit and make a refreshing riff on the paloma cocktail.
The thick layer of pith and membrane surrounding the flesh of the fruit is very bitter and considered inedible. The flesh on the inside tends to be drier than a grapefruit or orange, so it can easily be sprinkled over a dish. It also pairs well with hearty fish such as swordfish. The pomelo peel makes a great addition to marmalades and is a good candidate for candying, too.
3. Cara Cara
Discovered in the mid-70s in Venezuela, the cara cara orange is a cross between the Washington navel and the Brazilian Bahia navel. The outside of this fruit looks like any other common navel, but opens up to beautiful pink flesh and a complex, sweet flavor, with hints of berries and roses. Low in acidity, they are delicious on their own or wonderful in an orange curd. Add a gorgeous pink-red burst of color to your smoothies and lunchtime salads, or make a cara cara orange liqueur with the juice and peel.
The hardy little kumquat is an olive-sized, oval-shaped mini-orange. Its brightly colored skin is totally edible and often the best part of the fruit. Go ahead, pop the whole thing in your mouth for a quick burst of sweet and sour flavor. Kumquats make great marmalades and are a nice addition to chutneys or marinades for various meats. Add them to an easy green salad for a bright unexpected punch, or candy them to top your favorite winter cakes.
5. Ugli Fruit
The ugli fruit, a natural hybrid of a grapefruit, orange, and tangerine, was first discovered in Jamaica in the 1930s. The unfortunate name refers to the often wrinkled and blemished skin of this fruit. But underneath the unsightly exterior is juicy flesh that is sweet like its tangerine parent. This citrus fruit is especially delicious just eaten on its own, but it can be used much the same way an orange would be used. It is a great addition to salads, relishes, and salsas, and can be used to flavor meat dishes.
(Image credits: Jenny Huang)