Meet Your New Citrus Crush of the Winter
Let’s just say it puts oranges, tangerines, and clementines to shame.
I am generally a fan of all things citrus, from lemon zest brightening recipes to tart limes in my cocktails, and my license plate is PMPLMUS for pamplemousse, the French word for grapefruit, which is my single favorite word in any language. I make my own marmalades, candy my own peels, and citrus of every variety appear in my cooking and baking.
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So, when I tell you that a variety of citrus is a gamechanger, I know whereof I speak. And Sumo Citrus is that variety.
What is Sumo Citrus?
I first got introduced to the specialty fruit a few years back at a local Asian market, where I was intrigued by what looked like a large nubbly tangerine with a pronounced topknot. An elderly woman doing her shopping nodded at me with knowing eyes, and without a word exchanged between us, I started filling a bag. I stopped at four, and she raised one eyebrow at me. I added two more and she smiled and went to assess the cabbages.
Two days later I was back at the market filling two large grocery bags with the delicacies.
Sumo Citrus (this is the brand name of this variety) has been around since the 1970s, when it was first cultivated in Japan—the marvelously sweet variety is derived from the grapefruit-like pomelo and mandarin and navel oranges. But last year was the first time I ever spotted it in the wild at a non-specialty market. So now that it has hit my local grocery store, it is time to tell you that when you find it, you are going to want to acquire it at some scale. Sumos have all the best qualities of tangerines, easy to peel skin and blissfully seedless. But instead of those tiny clementines, which are the perfect snack for small children, these are about the size of a large navel orange, making them a decidedly grown-up serving.
Why Sumo Citrus are better than oranges, tangerines, and clementines
Sumo Citrus is terrific for eating out of hand. The segments have a firmness that is almost crunchy, popping between your teeth in the most satisfying way and offering a flavor that is bright, a bit floral, and complex. It is a perfect balance of intense sweetness and mild mineral acidity that prevent it from being a one-note eating experience. My husband, a wine guy, says they are the Chablis of citrus fruits, and I am not really entirely sure what he means by that, beyond deliciousness, but maybe if you are a cork dork yourself, it will be self-explanatory. What I know is that I have come to wait all year for their brief season, and gorge on them while they are available between January and April. They store well in refrigeration, and I love to eat them when they are cold, so stocking up when you find them is always a good idea.
Cooking with Sumo Citrus
Beyond snacking, they are a great fruit to cook with, since they don’t disintegrate like so many citrus fruits. I have done a riff on a duck à l’orange; made salads with the segments, shaved fennel, and oil-cured black olives; and even done a winter version of a caprese, swapping out the tomato for Sumos. I have made appetizers by wrapping segments in prosciutto, and desserts by shingling supremes onto puff pastry and sprinkling with coarse sugar and baking.
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Where to find Sumo Citrus
Keep an eye out for them starting after the first of the year, and when you spot them, imagine an elderly Chinese lady nodding encouragingly at you, and fill up a bag or two. You can thank me later.
The US distributors have shared the following list of stores that will be carrying Sumo Citrus when it is in season. Keep your eyes, ahem, peeled!