Rare and Unique Citrus Fruits Inspire Our Flavors

Jan 5, 2021Beverages, Categories, Savory, Seasonal Flavor Insights, Sweet Goods & Dairy

Givaudan is basic in citrus, meaning we process citrus ingredients in-house from all natural citrus raw materials. Givaudan is committed to citrus. Our TasteEssentials® Citrus program means we are committed to investing in citrus research, and we offer security and scale with extensive global supplier partnerships and accomplished volatile supply management. When it comes to developing citrus flavors, our creation techniques are based on molecular level research optimizing stability for the specific base. Overarching all of this is our stewardship and sustainability program deeply rooted in preserving citrus biodiversity with our support of the Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection at the University of California Riverside.

The Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection (GCVC) at the University of California, Riverside

The Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection (GCVC) at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) is a living museum and a truly unique and inspiring citrus grove. The GCVC is home to over 1,000 citrus varietals; this collection could not be recreated today.  Many of the varieties were gifts from around the globe years ago and today would be considered a countries intellectual property and not as readily shared as in years past. Some of the cultivars in the collection are hybrids created by citrus breeders at UCR. It can take a generation to develop and release new cultivars and only a small percentage of the cultivars developed are commercialized. The features of citrus fruit that make it likely to be commercialized are seedless, easy to peel, how the shape of the fruit allows it to be packed and shipped, the shelf life of the fresh fruit, and the flavor. 

History of Citrus

I could go on and on sharing the interesting tidbits I have picked up from 6 years of citrus product management at Givaudan, which means six years of leading treks at the GCVC. But the reason for writing this is the star of the grove – the citrus fruit. But before I dig in on specific citrus varieties, it is worth a quick history lesson on citrus origins. Cultivated citrus fruits believe to have originated from four original ancestral species. Before reading further – what do you think are the four original citrus species – go ahead and say it, it’s what everyone says – “orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit.” 

What do you think are the four original citrus species? Click to learn more!

Actually the four original ancestral species are believed to be:

  • Pummelo
  • Mandarin
  • Small Flowered Papeda
  • Citron

The citrus fruit we love and know best – lemons, limes, sweet oranges, and grapefruit are believed to have originated as first or second-generation hybrids of these four ancestral species. See the image below for a simplified story of the beginnings of these beloved citrus fruits.

Chart of the origin of citrus origins starting with Pummelo, Mandarin, Small Flowered Papeda and Citron

Some Favorite Citruses

I feel these fruit origin stories are important to know when learning about the varieties at the GCVC because it sets a stage for what you will taste. It gives a framework for understanding that what you are tasting can and will cross boundaries and you cannot put your citrus fruit variety descriptors in box. You need to taste with an open mind and expect to find sulfur grapefruit notes in a small mandarin shaped fruit or juicy berry notes in a large pummelo shaped fruit. You need to expect the unexpected because citrus varieties have a fascinating history and a blended family tree.

Valentine Pummelo

The fruit I have sampled the most on treks is without a doubt the Valentine Pummelo – yummy juiciness. It is the first tree we visit and a great introduction to rare and unique citrus and sets expectations for the intermingling of citrus varieties. Developed at UCR, Valentine is hybrid blood orange grapefruit-like citrus, which is a cross of Siamese Sweet Pummelo x Ruby blood Orange x Dancy mandarin. “Valentine” not only because the fruit matures in mid-February near St. Valentine’s Day, but also because when the fruit is cut length-wise and turned upside down, the flesh of the fruit resembles a vibrant red heart. The taste descriptors always include some combination of grapefruit, floral, red berry, juicy, sweet, and candy and we always have requests for seconds and third samples as we fawn over this beautiful and unbelievable citrus wonder.

Tahitian Pummelo Hybrid

Another favorite pummelo of mine (and others) is the Tahitian Pummelo Hybrid. Very little is known about the origins of this hybrid, it is believed to have originated in, wait for it, Tahiti – from a seed from Borneo and it was then take to Hawaii (sounds like fun island hopping to me, sign me up for that trip). Besides the outstanding flavor, the Tahitian Pummelo stands out to me because of its vibrant, electric green-yellow color. Typical to most pummelos, it is very seedy, large and oval shaped. The flavor is pure wonder, I am not much of a cocktail drinker, but one taste of this varietal and I want to get behind the bar to mix it with classic cocktails kicking them up a notch or create my own Tahitian potion. Descriptors of this winner include grapefruit, lime, cream, coriander, floral, sulfur and there is a zing I just can’t quite place, but it wakes up my tongue. It is like a grapefruit crossed with a lime and a bit of electricity.

Someone holing a Tahitian Pummelo Hybrid that has been cut in half
Like typical pummelos, the Tahitian Pummelo Hybrid is seedy with a thick rind, but few pummelos are as vibrantly green-yellow as this.

Rio Farms Vaniglia Sweet Orange

Sweet Oranges in a bunch growing on a tree
On the tree the Rio Farms Vanigilia’s appearance does not hint at the beguiling flavor profile inside the fruit.

Some of the fruits’ names are not as lovely as the fruit, case in point, the Rio Farms Vaniglia Sweet Orange, a vibrant orange-colored fruit that resembles a small navel orange whose outer appearance is not remarkable. However, slice it open and things become much more interesting. The outer edges of the fruit lining the white (albedo) of the peel is a pinkish red, upon first inspection it looks like it may be a blood orange hybrid, but the pink flesh is believed to be caused by lycopenes. (Lycopene is the bright red carotenoid that gives red and pink fruits like tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruits their characteristic color). The unique aspect of this fruit and why I want to share it with you is its distinct and pervasive flavor note breaking citrus fruit barriers – VANILLA. Note that vanigilia is Italian for vanilla. The Rio Farms Vaniglia Sweet Orange is without a doubt, nature’s precursor to the orange creamsicle, orange push up or orange whip. The Rio Farms Vaniglia is low acid, melon-y, sweet, sometimes with a tinge of vegetative notes but never fails to bring a creamy vanilla finish. 

Millsweet Limetta

The final citrus I’m sharing in this issue is the Millsweet Limetta. Very little is known on the history of this low acid fruit. Most likely it originated in the Mediterranean and made its way to California and the Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection via a stay in Mexico – it was received into the collection in 1914. Limetta’s strongly resemble lemons, though limetta trees and leaves have distinctive characteristics setting them apart from true lemons. I am sharing this fruit with you because of its unique flavor characteristics – first off the Millsweet is low acid, which means it is a sweet lemon (but really not that sweet, just lacking the sour, citric acid bite we know and adore lemons for) and it has a particular and pervasive note of black pepper. Other descriptors include bergamot, eucalyptus, floral and green cardamom, but the black pepper note is consistent and overarching in the flavor profile. Other limettas include the Limonette de Marrakech, which is highly acidic and the Mediterranean Sweet Limetta, which like the Millsweet is low-acid; however neither of these cultivars are known for a black pepper note. 

Millsweet Limetta growing on a tree
The Millsweet Limetta resembles a lemon with a flattened end.

Crossing Citrus Boundaries and Blending Families

What brings all of this together and makes this a win for you and me?  All of our flavorists working in the beverage and sweet goods market space have trekked with me at the GCVC! They have sampled these and many other citrus varieties. Additionally, our analytical lab has analyzed many of our favorite varieties so we understand what chemicals in the fruit are contributing those unique and differentiating profiles. This means our citrus flavors represent the crossed boundaries and blended family history I outlined earlier with the fascinating citrus origin story. Our citrus flavors are as varied and creative as the over 1,000 varieties of citrus found at the Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection at UCR.


1 Comment

  1. Sydney Cromwell

    I’ve been lucky enough to travel to the Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection in Riverside and each of these fruits bring something unique to creating new citrus varieties. Being able to create these unique citrus flavors for mass-commercialized products allows consumers to experience these fruits that they usually wouldn’t be able to.


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