A closer look: citrus

Categories: Product stories

A quick guide to citrus fruits

All citrus fruits derive from four original species, native to south-east Asia: pomelo, citron, mandarin and papeda. Nowadays, however, a vast multitude of hybrids grow prolifically across Asia and the Mediterranean, as well as regions of North and South America and Africa. The Italians have proved particularly adept at creating beautiful varieties with distinctive regional characteristics, and can lay claim to some of the most highly prized citrus in the world.

Unfortunately, we lack the sub-tropical climate needed to grow citrus fruits in the UK; fortunately, Borough’s greengrocers have rounded up the best of the best from across the continent for us.

How seasonal are they?
Much more so than the year-round commercial availability of common lemons, limes and oranges would suggest. Most of these more unusual varieties are around for a couple of months at best, almost always in the colder months—November through to March tends to be prime citrus time, with pomelos, citrons, and rare lemons of all shapes, sizes and hues brightening the stalls.

Yuzu comes in earliest, around September, followed by bergamots and citrons in October. Italian blood oranges and Seville oranges arrive slightly later. Amalfi lemons, conversely, improve as the year goes on: the hotter the weather, the more intense the flavour, as a rule of thumb.

Sliced citrus fruits

How do I use them?
All citrus fruits make delicious candied peel and can be finely sliced in winter salads, drizzled with fine olive oil—their shock of colour looks brilliant, and they add both sweetness and acidity. Kumquats can be eaten whole, their peel, unusually, being sweeter than their flesh. Bergamot zest is especially fragrant (it’s what gives earl grey tea its distinctive flavour) and can be infused into syrups and drizzled on ice cream, or just about any dessert that takes your fancy.

The rare and valuable yuzu hails from east Asia cuisine, but has edged its way onto menus across the city of late. Its peel, flesh and juice can be used in creams and broths. The lumpy yellow etrog—rarely found on these shores—is central to the Jewish celebration of Sukkot; with its thick pith and distinct lack of juice, it is usually eaten in jams or candied.

As for lemons, take a leaf out of Padella’s book and use them to brighten your next pasta dish—Amalfi lemons from Campania are particularly highly regarded by chefs the world over, as are Sicilian citrons. Finger limes look a bit like gherkins (but taste nothing like them) and are choc-full of caviar-like globules which pop in your mouth as you eat them, like pomegranate seeds. Mix them into dressings and serve with fish.

Where can I buy them?
Exceptional blood and Seville oranges can be picked up from most of Borough’s greengrocers, and you can head to Chegworth Valley for kumquats, but for the rarer and more exotic citrus fruits photographed here, Turnips leads the way. You’ll find everything from giant, grapefruit-like pomelos to tiny finger limes—and anything that you can’t find on the stall, they will often be able to source for you.