Sumo Citrus – you’ll love it for the flavor

January 26, 2024

While at a local grocery store this week, I asked if they had any blood oranges in stock, since this is prime time for their appearance at the market. The perplexed produce clerk pointed to a pyramid of orange fruit and suggested I look in the nearby bin. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of the orange-skinned, ruby-fleshed citrus fruits, but I did discover a wide selection of knobby-skinned oranges labeled “Sumo Citrus.”

The hybrid known as Sumo Citrus was originally cultivated in Japan in the 1970s by a single grower who developed the fruit’s distinctive qualities. By 1998, it was imported by growers in California's San Joaquin Valley, and by 2010, the varietal was in commercial production in the United States. In 2022, the company enjoyed its best year, delivering the largest volume of these special fruits to markets across the country, and interest has continued to expand. 

Farmers that produce these fruits describe the labor-intensive steps for growing the juicy gems. The citrus are allowed to ripen on the trees, which are hand-pruned. At harvest time, they’re hand-picked into small totes instead of large bins. They’re floated along the collection and inspection lines to prevent bruising while they’re sorted by size. Finally, they’re hand-packed into crates for shipment.

The fruit was originally nicknamed the “dekopon,” a reference to the distinctive topknot on the stem end of the fruit, which you can see in the photo. While some citrus are perfectly round, Sumo Citrus are slightly elongated with a wide, round bump. Unlike navel oranges or tangerines, the skin of the Sumo Citrus is noticeably bumpy, which is one of its signature features. 

Sumo Citrus are also seedless, reliably sweet, easy to peel, and a delicious ingredient in any recipe calling for an orange or its juices. The smaller specimens in the photo came in a net bag that labeled them mandarins, while the larger one in the middle was in a bin with nothing more than a sign stating “Sumo Citrus.” They are actually a hybrid of navel oranges, pomelos and mandarins. 

Beyond orange juice, and its lovely cocktail companion, champagne, poured into a flute for a mimosa, where else will you find oranges as ingredients in recipes? One of the most familiar is in a sweet application, such as pound cake, cranberry cupcakes, or chiffon-style cake brightened with both zest and juice from your favorite orange variety. Another is in creamy carrot soup, where the zest and juice are added as a final stir into the creamy mix.

One of the most familiar places to find spicy and slightly sweet orange flavors is in the Chinese-restaurant favorite known as orange chicken. I’ve included a recipe adapted from Modern Honey, which separates the frying step from the addition of the orange-forward sauce. This is delicious over Basmati or jasmine rice, garnished with orange zest. No matter your preference for orange varieties, be sure to give the Sumo Citrus a chance – not the prettiest fruit in the bin, but definitely delicious.

Carrot & Orange Soup*

2 T olive oil
1 lb sliced carrots
1 diced onion
2 sliced celery stalks
5 minced garlic cloves
2-inch piece fresh ginger
1 t salt
1/2 t cumin
1/4 t coriander
1/4 t turmeric
1/8 t cayenne
4 C vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1/4 t white pepper

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium. Add the carrots, onion and celery; sauté until softened, about 7 to 10 minutes. Peel and roughly chop the ginger; add to the pot with garlic, salt, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne. Sauté until fragrant, stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Add the vegetable broth and bay leaf; bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, discard the bay leaf, and use an immersion blender to purée  until smooth. Whisk in the orange zest, orange juice and pepper. Serve warm. Yield: 4 to 6 servings. *Adapted from Epicurious.

Sumo Citrus Cookies*

2 1/2 C flour 
1 t baking powder 
1 C softened butter  
3/4 C sugar 
1 egg
1 T orange zest 
1 T orange juice
1 1/2 C confectioners powdered sugar 
1 T melted butter
3 T orange juice 
orange zest for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a small bowl, sift together flour and baking powder; set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg. Add zest and juice, mixing until just combined. Add flour and baking powder mixture gradually, mixing on low until just combined. Drop tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheet, spaced 2 inches apart. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Mix together powdered sugar, butter and juice to create a glaze. Ice cookies with glaze and garnish with zest. *Adapted from Sumo Citrus.

Orange Chicken*

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts 
1/3 C cornstarch
1/3 C flour
pinch salt
3 eggs, beaten
Oil for frying
1 C orange juice
1/3 C sugar
2 T rice wine vinegar
2 T soy sauce
1/4 t garlic powder
1/3 t red pepper flakes
1 T cornstarch
2 T water
zest of 1 orange

Trim chicken breasts and cut into bite-sized pieces; set aside. Combine flour and cornstarch in a shallow dish; add a generous pinch of salt and stir. Place beaten eggs in shallow bowl. Dip chicken pieces in egg mixture and then coat with flour mixture; set on a piece of waxed paper. Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high. When temperature reaches 350 F, add several pieces of chicken. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning often, until golden brown. Place chicken on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. In a medium pot, combine orange juice, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk cornstarch with water to form a paste. Stir into orange mixture and continue to cook for 5 minutes, until sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat and add orange zest. Toss chicken with orange sauce and serve over rice. Yield: 4 servings. *Adapted from Modern Honey.


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