Seasonal citrus

Why oranges and grapefruit are good for more than just Christmas presents.

Every year when December rolls around I think of delicious oranges and grapefruits. That may seem odd to many, but when I was in high school the winter holidays were associated with yearly citrus-selling fundraisers for art club, band, etc. Citrus baskets also surface during the holidays as great gifts to send loved ones. As I’ve grown older I now associate December as being the best time to buy citrus because it is in season, and it tastes the best during this time of year.

What does “in season” mean? In general, it refers to the kinds of foods that are traditionally harvested and available at the current time of year in your own or nearby growing region. Unfortunately oranges don’t grow in Michigan, so any citrus purchased here has been shipped from somewhere like Florida or California. In season citrus (for me) means that right now in the southern states oranges and grapefruits are naturally ripe and are being harvested and shipped for sale. For most citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and clementines, November through April is the peak harvest and is the best time to eat them.

In season also means the fruit is at it’s nutritional peak. What does “nutritional peak” mean? It means the time when fruit is at it’s ripest, and contains the most vitamins and minerals. Anytime before being fully ripe the fruit will have diminished quantities of nutrients. Fully ripened citrus will feel firmand will be heavy for its size. Smaller fruits with thin skin will be juicier and contain more nutrients. Always be sure to wash the outside of the fruit before consuming, as citrus often contains pestiside residue.

As for nutrients, holiday citrus is a win-win! Not only is it a useful and thoughtful gift, but a gift of health. Oranges and grapefruit are known to be great sources of vitamin C. One orange supplies 116 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C, and one grapefruit supplies 73 percent. Vitamin C is known to boost immune system function, but also enhances the body’s ability to absorb iron.

You can get even more vitamin C from your orange if you refrain from picking off all the “white stuff” called pith. The pith of both oranges and grapefruits contains as much vitamin C as the flesh of the fruit. Both of these fruits also contain flavonoids and antioxidants that are known to have anti-cancer properties, lower your risk for heart disease, lower cholesterol and even prevent kidney stones. Oranges, especially the pith, also contain more fiber than any other fruit or vegetable.

There really are no downsides, so be sure to get going and pick up a bag of citrus this holiday season to enjoy a healthy, tasty treat. Michigan State University Extension recommends storing your citrus on the counter for up to two weeks, or up to eight weeks in the refridgerator. For more information on the benefits of citrus or for citrus recipes, check out this USDA website about citrus.

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