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Citrus fruits

7 January 2021
Sunshine in Winter...

Acidity and bitterness are to pastry what percussion is to music: a knock that wakes up, a splash of freshness. From migrations to botanical matches, citrus fruits electrify our taste buds.

In French, Italian and English, "citrus" fruits evoke acridity, but their flavour makes a quality out of a potential flaw: acridity becomes freshness and vivacity, and brings some spirit to the taste.

Citrus fruits originate from the Far East, between the archipelagos that close the Southern Sea of China and the coastal regions of South-East Asia. They reached the coasts of Western Mediterranean through the Persian Gulf and Persia. Their presence is confirmed in China and India a few centuries BC, but a just few of them will reach Europe in the first century of our era. Citron came first, then came the orange, probably of the sour type, and then lemon and lime, as shown in a Roman mosaic. As of the 8th century, the Arab conquest rockets them to fame in Andalusia, Sicilia and in the islands of Western Mediterranean. They are fully adopted after the Crusades and rapidly spread, even though they remain a privilege of the aristocracy over a long period of time. Other citrus fruits will come much later: grapefruits in the 18th century, tangerine in the 19th century.

The vastly spread genus comes third in terms of quantity of species, after seed fruits (apples and pears) and bananas. The variety comes from the capacity of citrus fruits to form hybrids: the vicinity of another citrus fruit indeed promotes spontaneous cross-breeding, giving birth to a different fruit with the qualities of both of its parents in variable proportions! Soil and climate also foster mutations, hence stimulating an even greater variety. Their peel contains essential oils of many powerful fragrances used in cooking, pastry and sweets, as well as in perfumery. Some are reputed for their peels, others for their juices, of which acidity and bitterness make them both refreshing and vivifying. Their flavours can also give structure to cooking and pastry, giving dishes and desserts a specific signature… and added soul.

Bénédict Beaugé