A Complete Guide to Citrus Fruits

Add Some Zest to Your Next Meal

Variety of citrus fruits whole, cut in half and quarters and peeled

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Citrus is a category of fruit that has a thick rind and pulpy center. The flesh of a citrus fruit is divided into segments, and those segments are filled with juices. The rind is full of oils, which is where the aromatics and extracts for citrus come from.

This high acid fruit category contains numerous types, and far more subtypes. Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits each have multiple varietals; there are over 400 types of oranges in the world! Grown in the spring and summer, these brilliant and fragrant fruits are actually harvested during the winter, when the produce landscape appears drab and dormant.

Citrus fruits do some heavy hauling for three of the five main flavors: bitter, sweet, and sour. How sweet, bitter, or sour each is varies between the types; you'll never find an orange that's as sour as a lemon, for example. This article will help you learn how to best with all the types of citrus you're likely to encounter, introducing you to both common and rare varieties. We'll also provide you with classic and creative recipes to make the best out of your citrus choices.

Health Benefits

  • They can help to prevent cancer
  • They're full of antioxidants
  • They may help reduce inflammation
  • The fiber in them is beneficial for your immune system
  • They're notoriously high in vitamin C
  • They're full of healthy metabolites
  • Many varieties of citrus are low in sugar
  • They can reduce the risk of kidney stones

Where to Buy

Basic citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges are available year rounds at big box grocers. If you're looking for more niche types, they're available seasonally and can be acquired at smaller specialty markets and health food stores. You can find citrus that is local to your area, if you're in a region where it grows, at farmers markets.

How to Store

If you're looking to use your citrus fruit within a week of purchase, it's safe to leave it out on the counter. The skin is too thick to attract bugs, and the fruit will yield the most juice when at room temperature. However, if you want to keep your citrus on hand for more than a week, you should store it in the refrigerator. Keep it in a produce bin, away from vegetables like onions and broccoli, which will make it go bad more quickly. Stored in the fridge, your citrus should keep for up to several weeks.

Tools to Use

microplane next to an orange, u-peeler next to a lime, zester next to a lemon on marble surface

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Oranges

Oranges are typically divided into two different groups: bitter and sweet. As we don't tend to eat the bitter types, we'll focus instead on the most common oranges we do eat.

Blood Oranges

blood oranges whole and cut into slices on marble surface shot overhead

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

 The blood orange is a mild and sweet citrus, renowned for its beautiful red flesh. They get their signature hue from anthocyanins, the same polyphenol pigments that lend beets and blueberries their hue. 

Best way to enjoy

Along with their lovely red color, blood oranges tend to have a noticeable and delicious raspberry edge to their flavor. Blood oranges tend to be easier to peel than other oranges, often have fewer seeds, and have a sweeter taste. Because of their dramatic coloring, they are prime candidates for cutting into "supremes," or membrane-free citrus sections. Enjoy them juiced, in salads, or in baked goods.

Recipes

Clementines

Clementine citrus some whole some peeled

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

These seedless tangerines are so easy to peel, they're marketed to children. Clementines are not only easy to eat, but they are also fundamentally cheery little fruits.

Best way to enjoy: Clementines are noticeably sweeter than most other varieties of oranges. There's almost no bitterness or sour flavor, which adds to their appeal. You'll find these fruits to be fabulously portable and a sweet, refreshing snack in the middle of the day.​​​ The segmented fruit can also be added to salads and desserts, sliced up and spritzed with lemon juice and sprinkled with mint, or used in the many ways you might use larger oranges.

Recipes

Mandarins

Mandarin oranges in a bowl for good feng shui
Enrique Díaz / 7cero / Getty Images.

Mandarins are some of the sweetest fruits of the orange family. They're slightly smaller relatives of the standard orange. Clementines are tangerines fall into this category, but mandarins are often sold without a sub-type.

Best way to enjoy

Most mandarins are sweeter and less acidic than their citrus cousins. Beyond enjoying them as a snack, the segments can also be used on top of salads or as the base for desserts. They're also very juicy. The juice is often used in salad dressings and sauces for vegetable and meat dishes, as well as in desserts. Mandarins are commonly canned and preserved in a light sugar syrup. 

Recipes

Navel Oranges

Navel Oranges whole and cut in half

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Navel oranges are the most common variety of orange that is eaten. Navel oranges have comparatively thick skins and a characteristic navel-looking mark on the non-stem end.

Best way to enjoy

Navel oranges are good for juicing, but the juice tends to be so sweet that it ferments easily, so you will need to use the juice within a few hours. Consider using the fruit in a classic orange and coconut ambrosia, a fresh mixture of orange pieces, coconut, confectioner's sugar, and orange juice. Navels are sweet, seedless, and perfect for eating out-of-hand; but they are also delicious in salads. 

Recipes

Kumquats

Kumquats, whole and cut in half

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Kumquats are citrus fruits that look like tiny, oblong oranges and have a bright sweet-tart flavor.  Unlike other types of citrus, the peel on these little fruits is edible, making them a handy snack. 

Best way to enjoy

Kumquats are enjoyed in a variety of ways: candied, pickled, pureed, turned into marmalade, or simply washed and eaten whole. They can appear as part of a holiday spread, providing decoration for the table and a fruity palate cleanser. The fruit is also frequently sliced or left whole and candied for a tasty addition to desserts or drinks. Similar to oranges, kumquats can be pureed or juiced. Peeling isn't necessary, but you will need to strain out the little seeds.

Recipes

Tangerines

Tangerines, whole and peeled

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Tangerines are smaller than oranges with bright orange skins and slightly looser peels than oranges. The tangerine season is longer than most other citrus fruits, running from November through May.​​

Best way to enjoy

These fruits are great for eating out of hand and adding to ​salads, and you can also juice tangerines for a slightly sweeter and brighter take on classic orange juice—which also makes it great for a cocktail. They tend to have many seeds, unlike clementines, and so are slightly less kid friendly. Tangerines may also be slightly more tart than clementines.

Recipe

Valencias

Valencia oranges, whole and cut in half

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Valencia oranges have thin skins, some seeds, and are very juicy, which makes them the perfect (and most common) type of orange used to make orange juice. 

Best way to enjoy

These oranges are perfectly delicious to eat as fruit—you just have to watch out for the seeds. The name points to Valencia, Spain, an area that's known for producing world-famous oranges. If you are someone who enjoys orange juice, you can try juicing your own valencias. The flavor should be just like your favorite oj! You can use valencias anywhere you see a recipe that calls for oranges, and they will add a bright and fresh flavor.

Recipe

Lemons

Lemon slices, wedges, and whole lemons

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

A lemon is a bright yellow citrus fruit that is known for its acidic juice. Lemons are popular around the world for their signature complex sour flavor.

Buddha's Hand

buddha's hand cut open

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

The Buddha’s hand, or the fingered citron, is an odd looking fruit. As it ripens, its fingers open.

Best way to enjoy

While it contains no fruit or pulp, this citrus fruit is extremely fragrant, and the peel and rind can be used for a number of dishes, like salad dressings, marinades, baked goods and drinks. It gets its name from its unusual shape, which resembles a hand with multiple splayed fingers, although some cultivars resemble more of a closed hand than an open one. To use Buddha's hand, break off a "finger" from the hand and grate or peel the bright lemon exterior. As with all citrus peel, you only want the brightly colored part, not the bitter white pith beneath.

Eureka and Lisbon

When you buy lemons without a specific label, you're buying either Eureka or Lisbon. The Eureka lemon is thick skinned, and the Lisbon is thin; their tastes are similar.

Best way to enjoy

This fruit is harvested for its juice and peel, and oil expressed from the peel can be used on its own as an essential oil, or used in cleaning products. Nearly all lemon varieties sold in North America are either Eureka or Lisbon. These lemons are so similar—medium-sized, oval, bright yellow inside and out, few seeds, and a bright tangy flavor—that consumers can't tell them apart. Lemon juice can be used raw in desserts, savory dishes, and drinks, or cooked into recipes. Wedges and slices are often served with seafood and as a garnish for beverages, to be squeezed over the top for an extra kick of lemon flavor.

Recipes

Meyer

Meyer lemons, whole and cut in half

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Meyer lemons are believed to be a cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange. The fruit is about the size of a lemon, sometimes slightly smaller, with a smooth, deep yellow peel. 

Best way to enjoy

The flesh and juice are sweeter than a regular lemon and can be used raw or cooked. Because the peel is thin and lacking in a thick, bitter pith, the whole lemon (minus the seeds) can be used. The fruit can be cut in half and juiced, chopped and used in chutneys or salads, or sliced and used in baking or savory dishes. Meyer lemons taste similar to regular lemons but with a sweeter, more floral taste. The flavor can taste a little like a sour lemon mixed with a juicy orange. When ripe, they have a citrusy, spiced aroma.

Recipes

Limes

Limes, whole, cut in half and wedges

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Limes are small green citrus fruits that are very easy to recognize. The most common are Persian limes.

Calamansi

Calamansi citrus fruits whole and cut in half

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This tiny citrus fruit is green on the outside and yellow-orange on the inside. It is common in Filipino cuisine.

Best way to enjoy

Calamansi is said to be a cross between a kumquat and a mandarin orange, giving it both tartness and sweetness. It is used as an accent to stir-fried pancit noodles, as flavorings in desserts, and to make calamansi juice, similar to lemonade or limeade. Calamansi is difficult to find fresh in a grocery store, but you may be able to find it bottled or frozen at an Asian market. It not available near you, you can substitute calamansi for an equal amount of lime and orange juices.

Key Limes

key limes, whole and cut in half

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

The key lime (also known as "Mexican lime" and "West Indies lime") has long been treasured for its fruit and decorative foliage. 

Best way to enjoy

Key lime is most often used for its juice, which is sweet and tart and a signature ingredient in key lime-based desserts, marinades, and cocktails. A key lime is a hybrid citrus hybrid fruit that is spherical and measures about 1 to 2 inches across. It is green when picked but becomes yellow when ripe. A ripe key lime feels heavy for its size. Compared to a Persian lime, it is a smaller and has more seeds to remove, higher acidity, a stronger citrus aroma, and a thinner rind. The juice is used for syrups and, of course, key lime pie

Recipes

Persian

The Persian lime is the variety most commonly found in grocery stores. It is usually seedless and has light-green to a yellow pulp which is tender and acidic.

Best way to enjoy

Persian lime can be used interchangeably for the same purposes as Key limes and lemons and is often used as a substitute for vinegar. Persian limes typically grow to 2 inches in diameter and have a rounded, slightly oval shape. It's a seedless variety, and the flesh is a pale greenish-yellow. Limes have a tart, acidic taste with just a slight hint of sweetness. They're bright and vibrant, with a distinct zesty sour flavor, and their mouth-puckering bitterness is why they're not eaten whole like an orange.

Recipes

Finger Limes

Finger Limes on a marble surface

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Finger limes, sometimes also known as Australian finger limes or caviar limes, are believed to have evolved over millions of years in the rainforests of Australia and New Guinea. When cut open (they can also be snapped in half) they reveal a multitude of tiny spherical vessels, ranging in color from pale yellowish-green to nearly pink. 

Best way to enjoy

Because of their fresh, tart citrus flavor, finger limes pair extremely well with fish and seafood, including grilled salmon, fresh oysters, pan-seared sea scallops, along with various types of sushisashimi, and ceviche. One interesting feature is that because the tiny bubbles hold in the acidic sauce until they are bitten into, they can be arrayed over fish and seafood without the acid denaturing the proteins. When chewed, they pop in your mouth, releasing their tart, lemony juice. Chefs who use them serve them alongside seafood, sushi, pasta, and other foods that benefit from the crunchy pop of the bubbles and their tart, citrusy flavor.

Recipes

Grapefruit

Grapfruit, ruby red grapefruit and yellow grapefruit cut in half

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

The grapefruit is a popular citrus fruit with a thick rind and an assertive sweet, tart, and bitter flavor profile. It is available in white, pink, and red flesh colors.

Pink

Pink grapefruit is the kind most commonly available in U.S. supermarkets. Its flesh is in between white and red.

Best way to enjoy

All three varieties of grapefruit can be used interchangeably. Grapefruit is a hybrid of large yellow pomelo and small Jamaican oranges that grow in cluster-like bunches, hence the name grapefruit. Peel grapefruit and eat it raw as you would an orange, clementine, pomelo, or any other citrus fruit. Remove the membrane before adding to a salad or other sweet or savory dish. Grapefruit pairs well with fish and pork and can be macerated to make a tart dressing or acidic marinade for ceviche. Squeeze fresh juice for cocktails, cut up slices of the whole fruit for a salad, or mash it up to make a flavorful marinade.

Recipes

Ruby Red

The ruby red grapefruit has the darkest pink flesh of the three varieties, and is the sweetest.

Best way to enjoy

The popular Ruby Red grapefruit was patented in 1929 after a deep crimson fruit was found growing where the pink variety should have been. Today, a lot of the red grapefruits exist thanks to atomic gardening, which utilizes radiation to cause favorable mutations in plants. In general, darker red varieties of grapefruit are sweeter, with less sharp, bitter bite. Grapefruit's sweetness varies based on how dark its interior is, but all varieties share the same mellow bitter aftertaste. Ruby red has the least of that. Find grapefruit in any grocery store just about any time of year. More varieties are available in the winter when it's in season. Grapefruit trees grow well in home gardens in citrus-growing regions and can be very prolific.

Recipes

White

White grapefruit is the lightest in color of the three, with the flesh being nearly beige. It is also the most tart and least sweet.

Best way to enjoy

Even though grapefruit lacks the sweetness of many of its citrus cousins, it works very well in desserts. Use freshly squeezed juice to make ice cream or sorbet, or candy the peel, chop it up, and sprinkle on top of a glazed cake. Bartenders have taken to grapefruit as well. Unlike lemon or lime, pure grapefruit flavor is pleasant and palatable all on its own. Grapefruit juice can be mixed with tequila for a refreshing Paloma cocktail, paired with sparkling wine for a new twist on a mimosa, or used to add a refreshing note to summertime beers. Grapefruit can be stored on the counter, in a fruit basket, or in the crisper drawers in the refrigerator. Peeled fresh sections of grapefruit can be kept in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the refrigerator.

Recipes

Others

There are some citrus fruits that don't fall under the category of oranges, lemons, limes, or grapefruit.

Pomelo

Pomelo citrus whole and cut into quarters

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

The pomelo may also be called pamplemousse, pummelo, or shaddock after the sea captain credited with bringing it to the West Indies. It's the largest and among the sweetest of the citrus fruits, with a thick rind and few seeds. 

Best way to enjoy

The inner fruit ranges in color from white to orange to pink, and can be eaten fresh or used as a finishing element in both sweet and savory dishes. Pomelos generally cost considerably more than oranges and grapefruits, though aficionados say the expense is well worth it. Eat the pomelo fresh or use it in a sweet or savory dish. In Thailand, fresh pomelo is often eaten with a sprinkle of salt and dash of chili powder, or incorporated into refreshing, acidic salad. Like grapefruit, pomelos pair well with seafood, and the juice adds zest to a marinade or vinaigrette. Pomelos are the least acidic and sour of the citrus fruits, but they also tend to be less juicy than grapefruits, oranges, and tangerines. They taste sweet and tart, but not bitter, and have a distinctive floral aroma.

Recipes

Yuzu

Yuzu looks like a cross between a lemon and a small mandarin orange. It ripens from green to orange-yellow in color and has loose, slightly wrinkly skin. 

Best way to enjoy

This low-acid citrus is found mainly in Japanese cuisine, though it's also popular in Korea and China. Over the years, yuzu has made an appearance in the American cocktail scene where it's prized for the tart juice and strong, pleasing floral aroma. In addition to the whole fruit, yuzu is also sold as bottled juice and candied peel. Yuzu is utilized for its juice and zest, which are infused into liquor, added to cream for desserts, and made into marmalade or jam. Yuzu has a strong, tart flavor. It works well when whipped into a simple dressing for a leafy salad or roasted vegetables.

Recipes