Thursday, January 25, 2024

Citrus: In Good Taste

It's late January, when most of the country is only dreaming about warm weather and the delicious enjoyment of eating freshly picked produce. Here at Florida Fruit Shippers it's the peak of citrus season, with many varieties of oranges, grapefruit, honeybells and tangerines all ripe for the harvest and ready to be savored!  These varieties differ in appearance, color, texture, and most importantly, taste. Overall, grapefruit is considered to be on the sour side, while oranges generally classify as sweet. But what is "taste," really? how does it compare to "flavor?" And how many different tasty flavors can citrus really have?

Taste and the Many Flavors of Citrus

There are receptors on our tongue's taste buds for five broad categories of taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory. Of these, citrus covers three of them: sweet, sour, and bitter. The flavor of something is the combined effect of its taste and odor, so to maximize your enjoyment of eating your citrus of choice, take a nice whiff first, an intentional and mindful bite, and then proceed to chew slowly so that your olfactory receptors can continue to take up the citrusy notes along with your taste buds. 

Numerous adjectives are used to describe how something tastes beyond the five main categories. Imbibe, Inc. has identified thirty-six key flavors in the foods that we eat and smell, and of these, seven can be used to describe citrus fruits in varying degrees: acidic, candy-like, clean, delicate, piquant (exciting), tangy, and tart. Let's examine some of the January fruits and get to know their flavors a bit better.


There are two main orange varieties ready for the picking right now: navels and cara cara red navels. Going for the classic "orange" taste? Navels are the poster child of oranges, with the low acid, just-sweet-enough flavor that oranges are known for. Cara cara red navels (pictured above), by comparison, are a bit more complex in flavor. While they also have the low-acid sweetness characteristic of their navel cousin, that deep red flesh also carries delicate floral hints of cranberry and rose. Temple oranges are a tangerine-orange cross that will become available at the very end of January and remain in season only for a few weeks. They are clean-tasting, piquant and tart, and have a spicy-sweetness that offsets the tartness perfectly.


Grapefruit is the one type of citrus that is available for most of the harvesting season, as early as November. Ruby red grapefruit, pictured here, can be obtained all the way through May. While it certainly sports the classic sour grapefruit tang to the delight of all grapefruit lovers, it also has a distinctive sweetness that is a trademark of the red-fleshed citrus varieties. By comparison, the seedless Marsh white grapefruit has that well-loved clean and classic grapefruit taste, with just enough sweetness to bring out the joy in your pucker. Marsh white and deep red grapefruits are only available through February. The cooler temperatures seem to make the deep reds a perfect combination of sweet and sour. While "juicy" is not an adjective for taste per se, the juiciness of the deep reds certainly serves to enhance its flavors!


Tangerines are available all season long, from November through May. They tend to be sweeter and less acidic than oranges, with a lightly tart flavor that is balanced out with a honey-like sweetness. If you get any of the pith of the fruit, you may also taste a stronger bitter flavor, as tangerines in general have a stronger taste, smell, and overall flavor compared to other citrus varieties.


Honeybells, with their distinctive "bell" stem, are a unique tangerine/grapefruit hybrid with a flavor that has been described as "vivid." With their parentage, it can be expected that the fruits are tart and tangy; the surprise is that they also have a honey-like sweetness from which the name "honeybell" is derived. Like grapefruits, their juiciness only serves to enhance their taste and flavor. 

Whether you prefer sweet, sour, bitter, or any combination of these, citrus fruits have you covered! One thing we can say for sure: no matter which citrus types you choose to enjoy this season, you have excellent taste. 


Types of Taste: What to Know About Taste and Flavor (

Understanding Tastes and Food Flavors | American Heart Association

A Complete Guide to Citrus Fruits (

36 Key Terms for Describing Taste and Flavor – Imbibe (

What Do Tangerines Taste Like? (

What are Honeybell Oranges? (with pictures) (

What Are Tangelos? (

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