Winter citrus primer

This article was originally published in January 2012

Is there a better antidote to winter doldrums than a juicy grapefruit or a sweet, tangy orange? They can brighten a cold, gray morning like sunshine itself. Eat them now, while they’re at the peak of their season, and be sure to try some of these more unusual citrus varieties (organic, of course!) at your neighborhood PCC.

Cara Cara orange

Reddish-pink flesh distinguishes this cross between the familiar (“Washington”) navel and the Brazilian Bahia navel. It has lower acidity than a Washington navel and a sweet flavor with overtones of raspberries and strawberries.

Did you know?

An orange has more than 170 different phytonutrients and more than 60 flavonoids, which have been shown to fight blood clots, inflammation and cancer!

Rio Star grapefruit

A blend of two Texas varieties — Rio Red and Star Ruby — with a deep red color and a refreshing flavor. The red comes from lycopene (the same nutrient that gives tomatoes and watermelon their color) that’s believed to reduce the risk of cancer. PCC’s come from Dennis and Linda Holbrook of South Tex Organics.

Did you know?

Eating a red grapefruit a day could reduce cholesterol by 15 percent and triglycerides by 17 percent and reduce the risk of heart disease, according to a study in the “Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.”

Blood orange (aka Moro orange)

A tart orange with brilliant crimson flesh indicating it’s high in anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant. Toss slices into salads, chop up in salsas and chutneys, use in a vinaigrette, or make colorful mimosas or Sangria!


Sometimes called a “Christmas Orange” (it’s in season November through January), this small tangerine usually is seedless. It may not be as easy to peel as other tangerine varieties such as Satsumas but it makes up for it with a full, sweet flavor.


Mildly sweet and juicy variety of tangerine with few if any seeds. Often called “zipper fruit” because they’re so easy to peel. PCC’s come from Rich Johansen’s organic ranch in Orland, Calif.

Meyer lemon

A cross between a regular (Eureka) lemon and a mandarin. Less acidic, juicier than a Eureka, with thinner skin and a more orange-colored, sweeter flesh. PCC’s mostly come from Rich Johansen’s organic farm in Orland, Calif.

Minneola tangelo

A cross between a grapefruit and a Dancy tangerine, a Minneola has the flavor of a tangerine and the juiciness of grapefruit but without the acid. It has few seeds and is easy to peel, and is distinguished by a knobby bump at one end. Look for them until the end of citrus season, in April or so.

Royal Mandarin

Neither an orange nor a Mandarin, a royal Mandarin is a cross between a tangerine and an orange. Extremely juicy and sweet, it has many seeds and often is called a temple orange.


Eat the tiny whole fruit, skin and all (seeds are rare). The skin is sweet, while the flesh is tangy and refreshing.

Citrus for health

We all know citrus is high in vitamin C, which helps keep winter colds at bay. But there are plenty more healthy reasons to eat these sunny fruits. Citrus:

  • Reduces inflammation. One of the most important nutrients in oranges (hesperidin) is found in the peel and inner white membrane, rather than in the fruit’s liquid orange center. Hesperidin has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Reduces cancer risk. An extensive report, “The Health Benefits of Citrus Fruits,” reviewed 48 studies that show a diet high in citrus helps reduce the risk of some types of cancer, especially esophageal, mouth, larynx, pharynx and stomach cancers. For these cancers, studies showed risk reductions of 40 to 50 percent.
  • Reduces heart disease risk. A World Health Organization report concluded that the folate, potassium, flavonoids and vitamin C in citrus all help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Alkalizes the body. Our bodies strive to maintain a strict acid-base, or pH, balance. An acid imbalance can cause weight gain, frequent illness and overall poor health. Grains, meat and dairy are acidic, while most fruits and vegetables are alkaline. Citrus is very alkalizing — especially lemons and limes — and can restore your body’s pH balance.

Why buy organic citrus?

Some research suggests organic oranges contain significantly higher amounts of vitamin C than non-organic oranges. Also, the skin of non-organic oranges may be injected with an artificial dye to give them a brighter color. Non-organic citrus often are coated with a petroleum-based wax to protect them from bruising, so always choose organic if you plan to use the zest.

Storing citrus

Store citrus in the fridge in a paper bag. It should keep for at least two weeks, but a month or more is not uncommon.

Also in this issue

Letters to the editor, January 2012

Farmer demos, Early days of PCC, "Natural" labels, and more

Your co-op community, January 2012

Burke Museum presents "Hungry Planet", Blood drives, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Sweater Drive, and more

Is food combining valid?

The new year always sparks renewed interest in eating plans that promise better health and weight loss. Food combining is one of the many popular eating plans I'm often asked about as a nutritionist.