If you follow any food-related Instagram accounts, chances are you’ve seen these giant, lumpy oranges taking over your feed. The seedless, super-sweet, easy-to-peel citrus seems like the orange industry’s version of the honeycrisp apple with its high price and high demand. Our staff has been fascinated with these monstrous oranges, and we decided to take a deep dive into the weird and wonderful world of this ugly fruit.
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What is a sumo citrus orange?
According to Suntreat, the U.S. producer of the fruit, sumo citrus oranges are a “dekopon”—a cross-breed between a satsuma and mandarin-pomelo variety. The juicy, ultra-sweet oranges were developed in Japan with traditional plant-breeding techniques (so they are non-GMO), where they are often given as gifts.
Sumo citrus oranges have an iconic thick outer layer that’s easy to peel, thanks to the lack of albedo—the white netting around the sections. However, the fruit bruises easily, so the oranges have to be hand-picked. They have a short growing season—from January to April—so you can really only find them during the first few months of the year.
Why are sumo citrus oranges so expensive?
Suntreat, located in the San Joaquin Valley of California, is the only grower of sumo citrus in the U.S. and only began producing the fruit last year. Sumo citrus trees are difficult to grow and need at least four years of care before they can start producing, and the oranges require gentle handling once ripened. The fruit is so delicate that producers must apply a natural clay-based sunscreen on the peels throughout the summertime for protection!
Once the fruit is picked at peak ripeness, it’s then carefully transported to a specific packaging facility for testing. Each sumo citrus orange is measured for proper sugar and acid levels and gets tossed out if it doesn’t meet the producer’s high standards.
Interested in learning more about produce?
- 2019 Dirty Dozen List: Which Produce Should I Always Buy Organic?
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- This Sticker May Help Your Fruit Stay Fresh for up to Two Weeks Longer
Where can I find sumo citrus oranges?
Though sure to not be in stores for much longer due to their short growing season, you can currently find sumo citrus oranges at dozens of food retailers across the country. Some of the most notable retailers are Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, Target, Publix, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s. Now’s the time to find them on sale too, as they are finishing up their season.
Should I be choosing sumo citrus oranges over other varieties?
Not necessarily. This delicious fruit is prized for being a novelty more than a health food, and while a higher source of fiber, Vitamin C, and calcium than the average orange, that is mostly due to its massive size! However, since the fruit is produced with low-acid levels, they could be useful for those who don’t tolerate acidic foods well.
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