Citrus Super Stars

By Sue Freck, RD, CSP, CNSC, CLEC, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

What food family can brighten a gloomy day in mid-winter and deserves an Academy Award for best performance in the human body? The answer is citrus. This vibrant family includes oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits and even some unfamiliar members: tangelos and pomelos. Try zesting a fragrant Meyer lemon, or unfurling a little Clementine tangerine for a burst of natural goodness. From their cheerful aroma to their signature acidic tang, citrus fruits have great star power.

Center Stage

Citrus fruits provide an abundant source of vitamin C and are good sources of folate, potassium and fiber. Vitamin C is highly desired for its ability to protect the body from damaging free radicals and to fight against infection. Additionally, vitamin C enhances iron absorption from plant based foods. Citrus fruits are also rich in compounds called flavonoids. Citrus flavonoids are antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals and may protect against heart disease. Without fat, minimal in sodium, and full of juicy goodness, citrus definitely takes center stage.

Critic’s Choice

Although oranges, tangerines and grapefruits are often eaten raw as a snack, try adding to salads, pairing oranges with chocolate, or serving grapefruit broiled with some sugar and topped with basil for a different flavor experience.

Lemons and oranges can enhance fish, seafood, chicken and even pork. Try adding juice or pulp to a marinade or zest the outer peel and add to a dry rub. A small squeeze of juice onto other cut fruits or avocado can help prevent oxidation and browning.

Limes play a leading role when it comes to their use as a sour base in many beverage recipes or cocktails. They also enrich many authentic dishes with their acidic flavor when used in Mexican, Thai or Vietnamese recipes.

A surplus of fresh lemon or lime juice can be frozen in ice cube trays, stored and then used later in your favorite beverage or recipe!

New “cast” members

Try these less common fruits from the citrus family:

Cara cara: A navel orange that has a pinkish red color on the inside. It is very sweet and has a tangy hint of cranberry.

Blood orange: Is smaller than the average orange, with a crimson red to burgundy-colored flesh. Blood oranges have an intense orange flavor with a hint of raspberry notes.

Pomelo (also known as Pummelo or Shaddock): Is the largest citrus fruit, weighing close to 2-3 pounds. One variety has a sweet white flesh with a mild flavor closely resembling the grapefruit.

Tangelo: Is a cross between the tangerine and pomelo, hence its name. Two common varieties are the Minneola and the Honeybell. This fruit has a unique combination of tart and sweet flavors similar to the tangerine.

With so many choices and flavors, the citrus family offers something for everyone. The nutritional bang for the pucker is certainly worthy of at least a nomination.

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