How to Choose Citrus


Summer has its berries and stone fruits, but the winter months bring us some fabulous citrus that can be as bright and fresh as the fruits we eat during the warmer half of the year. To bring the best produce into our kitchen, we chatted with Robert Schueller of Melissa’s for expert tips on how to choose citrus. Here’s what he had to say:

  • Fragrance is key – Schueller says that fragrance is the most important factor in determining ripeness. Especially for the most commonly purchased citrus (oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits). A lime should smell like an lime, etc.
  • Color – The exterior skin of lemons, oranges and limes should be rich in the expected color – a lemon should be a rich yellow overall; an orange should be orange. Exceptions would be grapefruits where color is not a good indicator or ripeness.
  • Firmness – Oranges, lemons and limes should be firm to the touch. Tangerines, mandarins and clementines may be a little soft to the touch.
  • Specialty Fruit – Kumquats should be vivid orange and emit a strong fragrance. Buddha’s Hand (left rear of image) and Variegated Pink Lemons (left front of image) should also have a strong aroma, while color in both cases is not as good an indicator. Blood oranges will have a blush of red color on the skin, but how much each fruit exhibits will vary.

You can store citrus at cool room temperature for up to 1 week. For longer storage, refrigerate up to 2 or 3 weeks. The longer they are stored, the more they dehydrate, even in the refrigerator. This last point is why we like to choose fruit that is heavy for its size, since lighter fruit indicates dehydration, less juice and possibly that it isn’t as fresh. This approach has worked in practice in our Test Kitchen.

Tell us if you have some tried-and-true methods for picking citrus in the comments below!

Image: Melissa’s

2 Responses to How to Choose Citrus

  1. Barbara February 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    When purchasing grapefruit, oranges, or tangerines, I always look for the thinner skinned ones to avoid the thick pith layer. They also seem to be sweeter. I also look for a thickening, bunching at the blossom end – as this indicates a fruit that is older and frequently, past its prime.
    Fragrance is a prime indicator – if it doesn’t smell like an orange it is usually not ripe and has little to no flavor.

    • Dede Wilson February 8, 2014 at 8:28 am #

      Thank you for adding your tip about the bunching at the blossom end. We are in the midst of Clementine season and I am always so sad when it ends.

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