Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Does An Orange Need to be Pretty To Taste Good?

With some fruits, the appearance of the outside is a good indicator of the taste that lies inside. We’ve all been drawn in by the look of a gorgeous box of strawberries or blueberries, or turned away from a box that looks slimy and moldy. And if your grapes look sad or withered, this is not a good sign.

On the other hand, I’ve found that a mottled, funny-looking mango may be delicious! Some unassuming or even ugly and scarred apples taste incredible. But what about citrus?

As a matter of fact, the way your citrus looks on the outside is not a great indicator of what it will taste like! Why? Well, let’s take a minute to think about what an orange peel is all about. The exterior of an orange is tough, a bit scaly, and leathery…almost a bit like the skin of our favorite Florida reptile, the alligator. When combined with the white pith beneath, it offers a great deal of cushioning, serving as a sort of “fruit jacket.” (If you’d like to see the insulating effect of the orange rind in action sometime, drop a whole orange into a glass of water and watch it float…. then try the same thing with a peeled orange, which will sink!) Orange peels are also full of powerful and fragrant citrus oils that protect the fruit from insects.
Put together, all these elements of the citrus “jacket” do an extremely good job of protecting the fruit inside—so good that citrus can wait for us on the plant for months on end without losing quality. (Try that with a strawberry!) But along the way, that jacket sometimes sees some wear and tear.

From what? Well, in the course of life, as we all know, a little rain must fall. Sometimes, in Florida, a LOT of rain! When this happens, oranges and tangerines and grapefruit may blow around quite a bit in the wind, causing them to bang up against the surrounding branches and develop a few scars and scratches. They’re fine inside their “jackets”—but the peels show some minor wear and tear.

Another thing that happens sometimes here in Florida is that our citrus fruit “regreens” (turns somewhat green again) after it has turned orange. This can be frustrating for us as growers, but it’s just part of living in our wonderfully warm subtropical climate. Regreening occurs when the weather is a bit warmer than usual and ripe oranges reabsorb chlorophyll from the trees. It does not mean that the fruit is unripe or is less sweet—in fact, some studies show that regreened fruit is actually sweeter! Indeed, in some parts of the world, citrus typically ripens without turning orange. Fortunately, citrus growers have access to sophisticated technology (as well as our own taste buds) to help us decide exactly when citrus is at the peak of ripeness and ready to pick, regardless of color. (As you may know, citrus does not ripen any further once off the tree.)

So, what does all this mean? The fact is, sometimes oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and other Florida citrus are a prime example of it being “what’s on the inside that counts.” Of course, here at Florida Fruit Shippers, we know that you often are sending our fruit as a gift, and with this in mind, we select fruit with an eye towards beauty as well as taste. At times, though, our growers harvest some absolutely delicious fruit that is, well, less than picture perfect. Such was the case with a recent crop of late-season Honeybells out of Frostproof, Florida. We offered these as a free shipping special, letting our customers know they were a bit “visually different.” They went fast!

So if taste is what matters to you more than anything, keep an eye out for the occasional “brutti ma buoni” (Italian for “ugly but good”) special here at FFS. As we all likely agree, beauty is nice, but flavor is king.

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