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April 8, 2003

Mystery citrus
Posted by Teresa at 04:51 PM *

All right, I’m stumped. And considering that I am on a lifelong mission from God to eat (and most likely make marmalade out of) every kind of citrus on this planet, it takes a lot to stump me.

I found this one last night at my local grocery, which is run by Middle Easterners who don’t speak a lot of English, and their Hispanic immigrant employees who speak almost none. Two of them indicated that they either couldn’t identify the citrus, or didn’t know its name in English. The girl at the cash register said she’d been hoping I’d know what they were called.

Naturally, I bought six of them.

They’re about the size of a smallish Valencia orange, and are a faintly greenish grapefruit-yellow color, like grapefruits whose forebears have never even heard the word “ruby”. Their skin is tender, and so thin you can see the segmentation through it. It’s as thin as I’ve ever seen on a citrus, like the thinnest limes only not as hard. There’s no pith at all. They’re not very hard to peel.

The peel smells funny, a sort of sharp citron/camphor smell that’s somewhat reminiscent of the peels of meyer lemons, pummelos, citrons, and the one lavender gem I’ve ever met.

Inside, they’re a pale grapefruity yellow. The segments are large — I count nine or ten — and regular. The seeds are are fat, round, sturdy, and scarce. The fruit itself has the lowest acid content of any citrus I’ve ever eaten. It’s mildly sweet. The flavor is truly strange. At first sniff it’s got some of those same camphorish overtones, but then when you eat it, it tastes more like cantaloupe. (Yes, really. Would I lie about citrus?)

So. Anybody have any idea what these are?

Comments on Mystery citrus:
#1 ::: Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 05:50 PM:

Pomelos? I know they are still grown in the Middle East, but I don't recall ever seeing one.

#2 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 05:52 PM:

"Oroblancos and Melogolds are two new, sweet and mild grapefruit varieties, that may have green exteriors even when they are ripe."

It could be one of these.

#3 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 05:55 PM:

Sadly, ON FOOR AND COOKING by Harold McGee has let me down, which is a first. This site has a variety of photos, but of course not much about smell or flavor. I doubt it's here, but...


#4 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 05:56 PM:

Have you checked the Rutaceae section of Fruits of Warm Climates, a self-published book by Julia F. Morton? Googling on some keywords from your description got me the Tangor section of Rutaceae from that book, but I don't know how to compare your verbal description with hers. Anyway, the number of hybrids is impressive, and I hope points to God keeping you around for a long time as your mission grows ever longer with a steadily increasing number of citrus varieties to study.

Since Morton's e-mail address is published on that Purdue horticulture page, perhaps an exchange of photos by e-mail could be used to clarify things if some of the entries are relevant? A posted photo would probably help within the context of your weblog, now that I think of it.

#5 ::: Vancouverite ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 06:01 PM:

There was a green citrus fruit that we could get in Japan which I believe originated in the middle east--it may have been a product of Israel. The Japanese, in their Japanese way, call it a "sweetie", and I never learned the actual name. But it's probably not what you're wondering about. A Sweetie is about the size of a Grapefruit, has a thick rind, and pale green flesh--is that a Pummelo?

#6 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 06:16 PM:

Next on Food Network: Iron Chef Sweetie Battle.

"Is he shoving those Sweetie wedges into the eel's stomach?"

"Now he's putting . . . is that salt?"


"Yes Ota?"

"The challenger tells me that he's using salt from the San Francisco Bay."

"Ooooooh, how exotic!"

#7 ::: Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 06:21 PM:

"Kyoo no taemaewa, kore des!!"

#8 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 06:49 PM:

Man! We never get strange citrus around here! The best I can hope for are the little crates of tangerines that are suddenly all the rage, but who can afford them?

#9 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 07:05 PM:

Palestine sweet lime, maybe?

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 08:09 PM:

Kathy Li, I believe you have it. I think this must be a Palestine sweet lime, Citrus limettioefdes. They're quite rare. How odd, that they should wind up in my little neighborhood grocery!

So tell me: How did you know?

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 08:47 PM:

Chuck, the only place I regularly see pummelos for sale is in Chinatown, where they're obviously much esteemed. The things are huge, much bigger than a grapefruit.

John, at first I thought they were some kind of dwarfish grapefruit, but I knew they weren't when I smelled their peel.

Bob, that's a cool site. I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did confirm that the odd citrus fruits I bought (and made into marmalade) when I was in Italy were in fact etrogs that hadn't made the grade.

Vancouverite, a sweetie is a kind of pummelo. The mystery citrus does smell kind of like a pummelo, but it's much smaller, and doesn't have a pummelo's extra-thick rind.

Rachael, I'll bet what you're getting are clementines -- what Patrick calls "the Palm Pilot of fruits". Where do you live again?

#12 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 09:51 PM:

Seems to me Palestine sweet limes get a prominent place in at least one story of religious war set in the Slammer universe and inclue the setting for a fighting to exhaustion at the expense of a lot of capital goods stop on Voyage (dropping the Palestine to make it a clue stick instead of a clue by four). Oddly with the exception of Marmelade which has nothing to do with orange rind I can't think of another specific citrus reference in the literature (there was a Boy's Life serial reference to a inventing a grape fruit capsule that squirted the other way, likely never reprinted) - any sensuous citrus in SF come to mind?

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 09:56 PM:

Oh, and Derryl? If this is the first time Harold McGee has let you down, it's also the first time Botanica has let me down.

#14 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 10:29 PM:

This sounds like the Indian sweet lime. I don't recall those tasting like cantaloupe, but it's been years since I had one. I tried to describe them once as tasting like a lemon that's not sour, but it doesn't really taste lemony-- citrusy, but extremely mild, as you say.

The question is, is the Palestine sweet lime the same as the Indian sweet lime?

And if that grocery sells fuzzy fruits that look much like kiwis but are brown inside and taste a bit like dates and a bit like brown sugar, they're called chikus.

#15 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 10:38 PM:

> So tell me: How did you know?

Got lucky with Google and a guess. :-) Second try, I typed in a string of stuff that had "lime" and "sweet" in it, and managed to hit something that matched your description. [First try, I looked up yuzu (association from a recent Sushi Experience With Jon Singer) and decided that wasn't it.]

I love produce adventures. My last one was when the local Ranch 99 (Chinese grocery chain) had "dinosaur egg" plums. Took one bite and went to look up if it was what I thought I tasted. And it was: a plum-apricot cross.

#16 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 11:29 PM:

Our local markets in Toronto can turn up some lovely stuff, so I'll have to go looking for those sweet limes.

Fruit experts: ever had golden kiwi? The flesh is chartreuse instead of bright green and the flavour is less tart. The golden kiwis also lack the usual fuzz, so I just scrub the skin a bit and eat them unpeeled like apples. I found some local stores that stocked them a couple of years ago, but I must have been the only customer because they have disappeared from our shelves. Golden kiwis should come into season between June and September, so look out for them this summer and hope that you have more luck than I've had.

#17 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 02:37 AM:

Have you tried making marmalade out of a Buddha's Hand yet? It's kind of cheating to ask, as they're not so much an "eating citrus" as a "staring at citrus".


#18 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 04:04 AM:

Is this perhaps also an esrog?

#19 ::: Cory Doctorow ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 09:32 AM:

Are these things Atkins-compliant?

#20 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 12:08 PM:

Kathy Li, pluots (the plum-apricot cross) are wonderful. They show up about once a year at CostCo and I always get a carton. Thinking abut putting a tree of my own in the side yard to replace the almost-dead peach.

(Although plucking a sun-warmed, ripe peach from a branch and biting into it, with juice exploding all over your face, is also an experience not to be missed.)

#21 ::: Jame Scholl ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 01:45 PM:

You might find this page of interest. You can order Palestine Sweet Lime plants, as well as lots of other citrus I've never heard of.

#22 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 02:23 PM:

Jame, that was it. That was the page I googled.

Bruce, the fruit I tend to wait for and pounce upon, when it arrives at the Ranch 99 in the summer, is lychee. And CostCo's Ranier cherries ain't bad, either. Much envy over the peaches.

Rachel, a lot of the webpages say "Palestine (Indian) sweet lime", so I'd guess that they're the same thing.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 03:25 PM:

Steve, of course I want to make marmalade out of a Buddha's hand -- or maybe just candy the peel. If you sliced it perpendicular to its main axis, you'd get lots of little circles, and then further up you'd get strange complex shapes like demented thought-balloons. I also want everyone's unused esrogim after sukkot. I'll even give them a cut of the marmalade.

Dinosaur eggs are great. Also beautiful.

Cory, a tastable small amount of a not-very-sweet citrus is within limits, if you're otherwise rigorous. By the way, have you run into Michel Cluizel's Chocolat Noir Infini? Bitter dark chocolate, 99% cocoa solids, but smooth. Minimal carbohydrates, maximum chocolate. Just break off a dab and let it melt on your tongue.

#24 ::: Paul Hoffman ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 03:43 PM:

On growing pluots: go for it. I visited a friend who has a tree in his backyard in suburban Bay Area, and asked him if they were edible. He just laughed, pulled one off, and tossed it to me. It was lovely, just lovely.

#25 ::: aa ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 04:04 PM:

Try asking the Hispanic workers what they call them. I'm Spanish and might translate it for you.

#26 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 04:48 PM:

I live in Minneapolis, which actually has fairly good groceries over-all, but not wild and interesting citrus. I did briefly have access last year to custard-apples, which I adored but my family hated (all the more for me.) You are right, the crates are clementines. Why does Patrick call them "the Palm Pilot of fruits?"

#27 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 04:56 PM:

I just planted a rio red grapefruit, a kumquat, and a Kaffir lime, to go along with our tangelo and meyer lemon.

For odd fruits, we also have loquats, with two different varieties: an orange-fleshed one that tastes somewhat orangish and a white-fleshed one that basically tastes like nicely textured sugar-water.

I've been told loquats make a very good jam/jelly that has the basic consistency of apple butter.

#28 ::: sam ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 06:20 PM:

Is that a confirmation? Palestine sweet lime, esrog, same same? Well, etrog, but I'm reform.

#29 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 06:30 PM:

"Why does Patrick call them "the Palm Pilot of fruits?"

Because clementines are portable, easy to use, and come with built-in personal-organization software. Everyone knows that.

#30 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 06:35 PM:

Sweet lime, etrog, not the same. Both cool.

#31 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 07:01 PM:

Interesting enough, there are at least two plum/ apricot crosses: pluots and apriums. I kid you not. And they're quite different. To my eyes and tastebuds, pluots are more like slightly more orange plums with a richer texture and apriums are more like apricots with an injection of plum flavor.

#32 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 08:54 PM:

Actually, Debbie, there are three: pluots, apriums, and plumcots. Plumcots are apparently even-steven enough in the traits that they don't get one of the cuter trademarked names.

Oh, look! There are plum/cherry hybrids, too! Man, my produce places and farmers' markets have been letting me down.

#33 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 09:16 PM:

Ohhhhh. Plum/cherry hybrids. What are they called and I wonder how I can get some. Maybe Uwajimaya or Central market. Must go to both more often now that fruit season is starting. God I want some cherries....


#34 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 04:59 AM:

You can get some cherry-plums in my backyard where the neighbor's tree dangles over the fence, in front of my local public library, or in the parking lot of the Trader Joes around the corner.

Cherry-plums are grown around here mostly as an ornamental because the leaves of the trees are plum colored. The fruits are the same color and are basically small juicy plums with no cherry flavor to speak of.

We have a plum tree and pick the fruit for jam, and when we're feeling industrious, we raid the cherry-plum next door and add those to it.

You won't find them in markets because they're not particularly good eating as plums--nice flavor, but too small. Though the trees are gorgeous.

#35 ::: Lisa Firke ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 02:37 PM:

>>By the way, have you run into Michel Cluizel's Chocolat Noir Infini? Bitter dark chocolate, 99% cocoa solids, but smooth. Minimal carbohydrates, maximum chocolate. Just break off a dab and let it melt on your tongue.

I ::must:: have this. Is there a recipe?

wandering in via

#36 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 07:19 PM:

Clementines come with "personal-organization software" ...snort, chortle.

#37 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 11:24 PM:

Teresa, one of Rebecca's friends in the neighborhood has a pumelo tree in his back yard. The fruit is the size of an unambitious cantaloupe; the skin is thick--one that broke open had almost an inch of rind. And while Justin's mother said rather dubiously that she thought they were edible, no one in her family had done so. The kids mostly used them as projectile weapons, tossing them out of the treehouse to hear them impact on the patio. Unlike a watermelon, which bursts with a satisfying splat, the pumelos mostly landed with a thud, bounced an inch or so, and rolled a few feet. They inspired no jam making enthusiasm in my, I'm sad to say.

#38 ::: judith ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2003, 04:15 PM:

teresa - have you crossed the limequat off of your list? if not, i can send you one from my tree. as you can guess from my url, i'm a fellow citrus fan...

#39 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2003, 07:21 PM:

Mad, those are undersized pummelos, but the inch-thick deeply cushioned rind is true to type. You could probably land one of them on Mars alongside a Sojourner probe. They are entirely edible, though they might need a little sweetening in such a wet climate. And don't regret not turning them into marmalade. Pummelos make lousy preserves. So do Lavender Gems, for the same reason. They've both got this odd flavor in their peel that just doesn't work.

Judith, I'd noticed the calamondin. I made my first limequat marmalade a couple of years ago. It tasted great, but if it had set up any firmer it would have been difficult to eat. Last year I made a kumquat/limequat mix instead, and liked it better on all counts.

Have you seen manoras? They're turning up in NYC. The first ones I saw had a hand-lettered sign on the bin that said FROM JUST OFF THE COAST OF ISRAEL, and little blue stickers on the fruit that said CYPRIA. Geopolitical silliness aside, they're a very nice hybrid.

Okay, okay, I confess: I stressed out the other day and went on a non-Atkins binge, devouring one really good ugli, two manoras, and one of the sweet limes I was saving for Singer. What I really wanted were Mexican sour oranges, but those only appear when the planets are in certain arcane alignments.

Bruce, you know all those ornamental sour orange trees that Anglo Phoenicians think have inedible fruit? Not true. The oranges are great. They just aren't sweet. They make a hell on wheels margarita, and they're almost as good for making preserves as Seville oranges.

I think that's funny. I can't tell you how many times I've heard members of my family wondering why Mexicans don't have any more sense than to gather the windfalls from those trees.

#40 ::: Karin ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2003, 02:15 PM:

Okay, I have to ask: having been intrigued by ugli fruit for a long time, how do you know you've got a good one? I assume the usual test of a good juicy citrus applies (heavy for its size), but what about colour, etc?

#41 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2003, 05:39 PM:

Heavy for its size, check. Resilient yellow-gold rind. Smells fresh and appetizing. It's rare to see one up here that isn't partly green, and their rinds can be so grungy that it's hard to make out the color.

An underripe ugli will still taste good, but it won't be as sweet as it could be. An old one will taste stale and overripe, but still pretty good. You've got to figure they taste good, if they look like that and still get shipped.

#42 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 01:53 AM:

We have a big cherry plum tree in the back garden. Last year it grew so much fruit that the weight broke branches off. Witht he help of friends, we picked pounds and pounds of it and made up about 50 jars of very nice jam. It is plummy rather than cherry flavoured, and as we're both on Atkins now, sadly off limits.

We have two big Orange trees, a small lemon and some other citrus trees in pots including a Kaffir lime - we just use the leaves for cooking though -didn't think the fruits were edible. Any suggestions?

#43 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 01:08 AM:

The Japanese "sweetie" similar to pumelo is called yuzu, and there was a Washington Post Food section article on it a month or two ago. The Japanese use the juice and dried ground-up peel to provide a tart flavor in fish dishes, sweets, tea and so on.

#44 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:56 AM:

Logee's Greenhouse in Connecticut started selling "Citrus limon 'Sweet Form' Make lemonade without adding sugar! This unique cultivar gives the gardener a little bit of both worlds. It looks like a lemon, smells like a lemon, but it's sweet not sour. A hybrid of unknown origin, the plant is a vigorous grower. Like all lemons and limes, it flowers and fruits throughout the year. Hardy Zone 9 and higher Full sun, grows to 1-3' in container, minimum temperature 500" [see] at the end of last year.

One of them is in my bathroom in its tiny pot.... as Billy Griggs, of Griggs Farm a half mile away, put it "you have to have -something- to feed the mealybugs." I rather doubt that it will survive in my care anywhere near long enough to have fruit, but hope springs eternal....

The current plant fad I don't understand is people pay $6.00 a sweet potato plant -- why not just buy a sweet potato from a store, and pot the thing up or plant it?!

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