Citrus Bowl: A Guide to Different Varieties at the Market

Citrus Sampler...

As I may have mentioned before, I work for an organic grower and set up shop at farmers markets in San Diego a couple times a week. I *love* this job and in doing so, not only do I get to eat a lot of fruit, but I learn a lot about the differences in taste, texture, and overall “hardiness”.

Since it’s “winter” here, we have a large amount of citrus.

When someone comes up to buy some fruit, I usually have them try as many different types as I have. Each one has its strong points and its weak points, but here’s what we have right now:

Paige Tangerine


Paige Tangerine


Small, round, bright orange. These are reminiscent of orange-flavored “Starburst” candy.

  • Pros: The sweetest citrus I’ve ever tried, VERY juicy, and “snack sized”.
  • Cons: Hard to peel. The peel is so thin that sometimes I can’t even pierce it with my fingernail. Better to slice them.
  • How to pick: Look for dark orange fruit. The darker the better. The peel gets smooth as they ripen, so the smoother, the sweeter.

Satsuma Mandarin/Tangerine


Satsuma Mandarin/Tangerine


Loose-skinned, defined segments, and kinda “ugly” on the outside. These are frequently sold with one or two leaves still attached.

  • Pros: EASY to peel.The segments are easy to pull apart and enjoy without bursting. Perfect for lunches.
  • Cons: Tend to have large seeds (occasionally) but that’s it.
  • How to pick: Look for brightly-colored (darker the better) fruit, and cup it like a stress ball to check for a “looseness” in the skin. Those will be the sweetest.

Navel Orange


Navel Orange


The classic orange for this season. They are sweet and inexpensive.

  • Pros: Sweet and juicy, easy to peel.
  • Cons: Occasionally dry due to weather influences during development.
  • How to pick: Again, like the previous ones, the darker the orange, the better. Firm skinned oranges aren’t as sweet as the softer ones.

Blood Orange


Blood Orange


With this variety, you either love ’em or hate ’em. They’re beautiful and tangy, but are a bit tricky to pick out if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

  • Pros: A gorgeous addition to salads and prepared dishes, even cocktails. Juicy and tangy.
  • Cons: If not picked correctly, they can taste really sour, like a lemon. Also, the season is limited to only a couple months (depending on the area).
  • How to pick: With blood oranges, the more “blush” they have on their peel, the darker the fruit inside. If your peel looks like it was attacked by an errant can of dark magenta spray paint, then you’re most likely in business. If you buy a blood orange that has no “blush”, just let it sit in a low-humidity environment. The blush should develop in a few days to a week.

Cara Cara Navel Orange


Cara Cara Navel Orange


This cousin of the navel orange is a beautiful addition to any fruit salad. On the outside, they are identical to the navel orange, but on the inside, a vibrant pink hue replaces the stock yellow-orange of the navel.

Comaprison of Cara Cara Navel (top) and Navel (bottom) Oranges...

  • Pros: Complex in flavor, almost like a cross between a sweet grapefruit and an orange. Beautiful pink color.
  • Cons: Virtually impossible to distinguish from the navel orange. The best way to tell is to only buy labeled cara cara oranges or to cut them open to see if they are pink. Other than that, they’re great!
  • How to pick: Like mentioned before, make sure you’re picking the correct fruit, the navel and cara cara navel look identical on the outside. Also, the more smooth and compacted the peel, the riper the fruit.

Mellow Gold Grapefruit


Mellow Gold Grapefruit


This fruit has a classic, slightly bitter tang that all of us remember. If you’re looking for a stock grapefruit, this is it!

  • Pros: Sweet, large, and juicy. You get a lot of fruit for one piece. They are generally inexpensive and last a while.
  • Cons: Their season is limited, and they are sometimes too much citrus to eat in a reasonable time frame. In addition, some fruits have a very thick peel. If you generally don’t like grapefruit, or can’t eat grapefruit due to drug (cholesterol medications) interactions, stay away!
  • How to pick: These start out as large green orbs, and turn yellow as they ripen. The more golden in color, the better. Also, pick a fruit that feels heavy for its size in comparison to others in the bin.



Pummelo: Sweet Japanese Grapefruit


These large green/yellow speckled fruits are actually a very sweet Japanese grapefruit.

Comparison of Mellow Gold (top) and Pummelo (bottom) Grapefruits...

  • Pros: The segments are well defined, so you could even peel the inner membranes off to yield just the pockets of juice. They are so sweet that if you normally sugar your grapefruit for breakfast, you can put the sugar bowl away!
  • Cons: Large fruit, and a lot of it is the peel. That, and if you are taking a cholesterol medication that may interact with grapefruit, don’t eat this, it falls into that category!
  • Look for yellow hues across the peel. If there are “freckles”, then it tends to be sweeter. And as before with the previous grapefruit, look for pieces that feel dense for their size in comparison to others.

That’s all we have at the moment. I hope that all y’all found this helpful and perhaps discovered some new fruit to choose from.


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