By Dr. Nirmala M. Pieris This Christmas, go citrusy, by using citrus fruits for the festive meal, to decorate the tree, to stuff the stocking, as a table centre and in a fruit gift basket. The uses of the fruits are endless. The genus citrus in the family Rutaceae has long been known for its [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Let’s go citrusy this Christmas


By Dr. Nirmala M. Pieris
This Christmas, go citrusy, by using citrus fruits for the festive meal, to decorate the tree, to stuff the stocking, as a table centre and in a fruit gift basket. The uses of the fruits are endless. The genus citrus in the family Rutaceae has long been known for its refreshing taste, delightful flavour and for its nutritional, health and cosmetic benefits.
The common Sri Lankan species of citrus fruits comprises orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit, pomelo and mandarin. These fruits, remain green until maturity and then may turn yellow to orange. The bright orange fruits in the marketplace are imported, with the colour developing in cool climates. When you buy citrus fruits, pick the firm and heavy ones with a bright skin and avoid those that are bruised or wrinkled.

We have three main local species of oranges: sweet orange (peni dodam), Citrus sinensis, sour orange (ambul dodam), Citrus aurantium and citron (sidaran), Citrus medica. There are two species of lime (dehi), Citrus aurantiifolia and Citrus hystrix (kudalu dehi). Several hybrids and cultivars of mandarin (naran) belonging to the species Citrus reticulata and Citrus madurensis also exist, such as heennaran, jamanaran, kondanaran, nasnaran, pininaran and yakinaran. Lemon, Citrus limon, grapefruit, Citrus paradisi and pomelo (jambola), Citrus grandis are other species in the local citrus range. The oranges and limes are mostly grown as commercial crops predominantly in the Moneragala district, while almost all other varieties are found scattered in home gardens. Kumquat, Citrus japonica is a recent addition to the citrus series and plants are now available.

Citrus fruits comprise an outermost layer or peel usually referred to as ‘zest’, a middle white spongy non-edible layer and then segments with the space inside filled with juice vesicles or pulp. While the pulp of the orange, naran, grapefruit and jambola can be eaten as it is; the more sour types, such as lemons and limes are generally not eaten. The entire fruit of the kumquat can be eaten raw. The colour of the fruit pulp can vary from whitish to yellow to orange, with the flesh of the pomelo which is the largest fruit in the citrus range with a not so juicy pulp varying in colour from white to a deep pink. The taste of the fruit pulp can range from sweet to sour to bitter. Different types of citrus fruits have similar nutrients but in different proportions.

While citrus fruits are wonderful on their own or juiced or in a cocktail they are also good in tarts, pies, cakes, puddings roasts, stir fries, pastas and as a garnish. Some citrus fruits are used to make pickles and marmalades. Fruits such as limes provide a sour taste to curries, and salads and are squirted over meats, fish and over fresh fruits to prevent browning. When you use oranges, lemons or grapefruit do not throw away the peel, save them to make candied peel, or grate and add to a sweet or savoury dish or steep in liquor to flavour cocktails. Candied peel is an indispensable ingredient for the Christmas cake and pudding.

Vitamin C
The key nutrient in citrus fruits is vitamin C also known as ascorbic acid that has a somewhat acidic and bitter taste. Vitamin C is necessary to synthesize and maintain collagen, in skin, ligaments, blood vessels, muscle tissues and bones. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that is able to reduce oxidation damage caused by free radicals. It is an antimicrobial that can fight mild infections and an immune system booster. With regular intake, citrus fruits can reboot your system especially at times when you are prone to colds and flu. Vitamin C also strongly enhances the absorption of iron in food. If you squeeze your own juice, drink it within a few hours as exposing the juice to air causes the vitamin to degrade. Oranges are known to contain the highest amount of vitamin C followed by grapefruits and lemons.

The colour and bitter taste of citrus is due to flavonoids that are polyphenolic compounds present in plants. The bitter and non-bitter species accumulate bitter and tasteless flavonoids respectively.Flavonoids are antioxidants that reduce inflammation and thwart damage caused by free radicals destroying cancer cells. Citrus flavonoids also improve blood flow through coronary arteries, reducing the formation of blood clots and preventing oxidation of LDL or bad cholesterol. Flavonoids greatly enhance and prolong the effect of vitamin C. This is the reason that supplements made from synthetic ascorbic acid are less effective. The membranes, rind and white pith of the fruit contain a high proportion of flavonoids, thus eating the segments as a whole may supply up to five times more flavonoids than you would get from a glass of juice.

Citric Acid
All citrus fruits contain varying levels of citric acid with lemons and limes containing the highest. Citric acid that has a tart and sour flavour is not a vitamin or an essential nutrient but has many antioxidant properties, which makes it valuable for fighting off colds, viruses and other illnesses. Citric also slows the formation of kidney stones as well as acts as an acid buffer to regulate acidity in the body.

Citrus fruits are the highest in folates with oranges in particular being rich in this B vitamin. Folate is necessary for cell production and growth and also prevents anaemia by production of red blood cells. Folate is particularly beneficial to pregnant women as they make DNA and other genetic material and prevents serious birth defects including spina bifida. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate.

All citrus fruits contain fibre which helps you feel full longer. It is always better to eat the fruit segments, rather than just drink juice. Oranges have the most fibre of all citrus fruits. A large percentage of total fibre in the fruits is the soluble type including pectin that helps control blood cholesterol levels and spikes in blood sugar. The rest is insoluble fibre, which adds bulk to digestive waste and eases constipation.

Citrus fruits also contain an impressive list of other essential nutrients, including sugars, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and many B group vitamins. Citrus fruits aren’t just refreshing, they are super-nutritious too and you should not miss out on a daily serving of these amazing fruits.

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