In Parts I and II of this article, you got to know the citrus fruits and how conventional (and sometimes organic) citrus can be “beautified” to look better. We also took a look at the current research on the nutritional value of conventional versus organic produce—which at this point is inconclusive.
Enough with the science already, you’re saying! How does organic citrus taste? I was in an unusually good position to find out with these taste tests.
I ordered organic citrus from several sources. Because not all of the citrus I received was sent simultaneously, there was a period of several weeks during which I purchased a few of whatever variety of conventional citrus I needed to compare against the organic counterparts. I shopped at different supermarkets and bought at least one of every type of citrus I was comparing from at least two grocers.
Navel Oranges. It’s expected that produce will be highly variable, and I found exactly that with conventional supermarket oranges. Some were very good, but a number of those I tried were insipid, not sweet, or dry. In addition, some of the supermarket Navel oranges were enormous—larger than I’d have liked, in fact. By contrast, the organic navel oranges were of a size I associate with being normal for this type of fruit, and all were very good to excellent. In particular, those from G and S Groves were outstanding—juicy, with a near-perfect balance of sweet and tart flavors.
Valencia Oranges. As with navel oranges, supermarket Valencias varied somewhat in quality, although I didn’t have any that were too bad. The organic Valencias from Diamond Organics were all very good. They contained a lot of juice, and the juice had good flavor.
Meyer Lemons. I could not test organic Meyer lemons against conventional Meyer lemons, because I was unable to find any Meyer lemons of any kind in local grocery stores. However, the organic Meyer lemons sent to me from Lemon Ladies Orchard were, as advertised, far less acidic than conventional supermarket lemons, with much sweeter juice and a beautiful aroma that was as welcome as a ray of sunshine on a cold winter day.
Mandarins (Satsumas, tangerines, etc.). I had never heard of sunburst tangerines before I received some from Uncle Matt’s Organic, but they were great! Sweet, a little tart, a great flavor and juicy. Likewise, the Satsumas from L’Hoste Citrus (shown in the photo at right) were a genuine treat. And, as advertised, I didn’t find many seeds in their Satsumas. I found no Satsumas locally, but most supermarket tangerines were juicy, albeit a little less sweet than the organics. Photo: Satsuma oranges from L’Hoste Citrus. Mandarins are defined by their thin, easy-to-peel skin and the fact that their segments separate easily, as shown in the photo above.
Grapefruit. Supermarket grapefruit were mostly of the Star Ruby or Ruby Red varieties. Their quality was inconsistent. Most were very good to excellent, but several lacked juiciness and/or sweetness. All organic grapefruits were excellent in quality, however; especially notable were the grapefruit from Sembra Citrus (Rio Red) and the almost-purple Red Flame variety from L’Hoste Citrus.
I was surprised by my results. Overall, I had a better experience with organic citrus than I did with conventional citrus, though I had not expected any substantial difference. Does that mean organic citrus tastes better than conventional citrus? It did in my case, but I can’t guarantee that will be true for anyone else. Matt McLean (of Uncle Matt’s) is understandably a strong promoter of organic citrus. When I related this story to him, he was very pleased but modestly added that it had probably just been a matter of luck. Factoring in weather conditions and handling practices, I suspect he’s right, as even an ideal piece of fruit can be damaged by either.
Organic Rio Red grapefruit grown in Texas by
One positive aspect of organic citrus is not due to luck, however. If you look at most of the companies that supplied organic citrus for this article, you will find that the majority are run by the actual farmers who grow the citrus. They have smaller farms, usually family-run, and they work their tails off growing, packing and shipping organic citrus. Most are utterly devoted to what they do. That’s fortunate, because their businesses wouldn’t survive if their dedication was anything less than total. These are the types of companies I like to support, and the fact that they use organic (and, in some cases, biodynamic) agricultural methods makes it all just a little sweeter. I can recommend any of the companies listed below, and I hope you’ll try some organic citrus this season.