In the dark of winter, we are saved by citrus! Their unique flavors and juicy flesh are a joyful relief from dreary grey days and cooked vegetables. If you have the time, buy one of each of the varieties listed below and discover the unique flavor profile each has to offer. It’s rather like enjoying a box of chocolates when you don’t know what’s inside. The ratings shown below are for January 2012 and will likely change as the citrus season progresses. Most citrus crops first come to market from desert groves in Arizona and California. Successive crops mature moving toward the California coast with the most flavorful fruit generally coming from the coastal harvests.
Valencias have the thumbs up this month for flavor and sweetness. Remember to wear a bib before you start in, they are really juicy. This is the end of the season crop so these oranges have been on the trees for a long time getting sweeter and sweeter. Valencia harvests start in the desert in the fall and work their way to the coast. By the time the coastal oranges are harvested they are perfection!
Mango Valencias true to their name have a mango colored flesh and a pink-tinted pith. The first bite is indeed like biting into a mango, well sort of, and then they seem to be mostly sweet and juicy with not much real orange flavor.
Navels are the orange everyone loves becausethey’re seedless, easy to peel, big, and juicy. Right now the Valencias have it all over the navels for flavor depth and juice, but in February the navels should be at their peak. If you want to add zest to a recipe, navel is a better pick than Valencia. The skin is rougher and easier to get off the orange.
Cara Cara Navels seem a little sour now. They are very juicy and their reddish-pink flesh would make them a beautiful addition to a fruit or veggie salad. They should improve and sweeten as the season moves on.
Blood Oranges get the prize for dramatic flesh color and exotic flavor. A friend compared the flavor to bible school punch. I never went to bible school, but to me they taste like a mix of orange-berry flavors. I love to partner them with roasted beets to make a blood orange beet salad. The colors and flavors are a good match!
Satsumas get us started on citrus season in November with their bright orange, delicious flesh. I have seen more artful demonstrations of Satsuma peeling than any other citrus. The skins all but fall off the fruit. Right now the Satsumas are still sweet and meaty.
Page Mandarins have it all! They are a deep orange color, juicy and have the true mandarin orange flavor. They are only going to get better through the citrus season!
Clementines are moving toward the end of their season which is a sad thought. They are positively floral in their flavor, are a lighter-colored flesh than their buddies, Satsumas, and a little harder to peel, but worth the effort.
Minneola Tangelos are recognized for the nobby bump at their stem attachment. Their parentage is grapefruit and Dancy tangerine making them juicy and tart. There season is just beginning, so the flavor may be richer in February or March.
Gold Nuggets are a relatively new hybrid that will be at their peak in March. They have all the right features like easy to peel, seedless, sweet, and plenty of orange flavor when they are at their peak.