Citrus fruits are like edible sunshine. During winter months the skins, juices, and tangy flesh of lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruits brighten gray days with flavor, color, and vibrancy. In addition to their many culinary benefits, citrus fruits also provide a range of health benefits that will have you reaching for these sweet and sour fruits this winter and beyond.
While dozens of citrus fruits exist all over the world, here are some you are likely to find in
Health Benefits of Citrus Fruits
Research is ongoing, but there are signs that eating citrus fruits may help prevent osteoporosis, kidney stones, hypertension, cataracts, and asthma. A diet of nutrient-rich foods, including citrus, may also improve cognitive function. Citrus fruits have another basic, yet essential, health benefit: Their high water content (oranges can be up to 87% water) keeps us hydrated. Not only can eating citrus regulate thirst, but water-rich foods make us feel fuller longer, which reduces the likelihood of overeating.
Want to tap into all those health benefits? It’s easy to work citrus fruits into any part of your daily meals and snacks.
4 Ways to Use Citrus Fruits
A pop of citrus brings brightness to winter tables in many ways. Citrus fruits liven up meals and beverages with bright acidity. Citrus adds color, sweetness, and tartness, and it can bring balance to rich, savory, or sweet dishes. Similar to salt, the acids found in citrus fruits can also boost flavor. (For more depth and dimension, feel free to combine your citrus with other acids such as vinegar.)
The culinary benefits of citrus interweave with the health benefits. For example, sprinkling zest or squeezing juice over a protein-rich dish of meat or leafy greens can increase the absorption of iron.
There are four main ways to use citrus fruits in your cooking.
- Zest: The peeled or grated skin of citrus fruits
- Juice: The liquid squeezed from citrus fruits
- Flesh: Whole or sliced pieces, peeled or unpeeled
- Whole fruit: The entire fruit (except the seeds)
Let’s take a closer look at each use of citrus, along with some of our favorite recipe ideas to put citrus to work in your kitchen this winter.
Often when we think of citrus we think of juice, but zest—the skin you grate or peel—is the unsung hero of the citrus world. Zest adds depth, brightness, and tartness to a range of foods, including marinades (Tuscan Lemon Chicken), sauces and condiments (Quick Gremolata), salads (Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Orange-Coriander Dressing), desserts (Lemon Pudding), and baked goods (Spiced Orange Cake with Glazed Oranges).
Zest is easy to work into just about any dish or drink you can imagine, such as cocktails, hot cocoa (especially orange zest), homemade breadcrumbs, vinaigrettes, and grain-based dishes. The main caveat with zesting is to only remove the skin: The white pith beneath is bitter and overwhelming.
From simply peeling and eating an orange or grapefruit to making a fruit cup or fruit salad, the flesh of citrus fruits is tart, tasty, and has a light crunch. Tangerines and clementines are usually smaller and easier to peel than a regular orange, so it’s easy to pack citrus in winter lunches or enjoy as a quick morning or afternoon snack. Peeled citrus also gives a flavor and nutrient boost to green smoothies, salads, and roasted dishes such as roast chicken or roast fish.
Citrus juice easily takes a spotlight, and for good reason. Whether worked into drinks or sauces, or squeezed over burritos or stews, juices from limes, lemons, or other citrus fruits are an easy way to add flavor. One caveat: Citrus juices can turn bitter if cooked for too long, so it’s best to add it right before serving.
Citrus enhances foods in other ways too.
- Rub a halved citrus fruit over sweet or bland foods, such as rubbing a halved lime on a banana, to balance flavor.
- Toss sliced apples, pears, or potatoes with citrus juice to prevent browning (caused by exposure to air).
- The acidity of citrus enhances flavor, so use citrus juices to help cut back salt in homemade dishes.
Citrus is more than just the sum of its parts. For many citrus fruits, you can use the entire fruit (minus the seeds, which are unpleasantly bitter and hard).
From slices to dices to the whole fruit, there are many ways to use whole citrus.
- Enhance meat dishes (such as this Roasted Lemon Crispy Beef).
- Top roast fish or chicken breasts with unpeeled slices. (Slices also work great underneath roasting cuts to add flavor while raising the food off the pan.)
- Brighten up cookies and other baked goods (such as these Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Diced Kumquats).
- Preserve lemons or limes to enhance foods with funky fermented flavor.
- Use the entire fruit, minus seeds, for added fiber and flavor (such as in these Lemon Bars).
Warm up your winter kitchen with citrus sunshine
Whether zest, flesh, juice, or the entire fruit, the wide world of citrus fruits combines health and flavor. Use them all winter long to brighten up your meals at home, add flavor to your leftovers you bring the office, or flavor your water to help you stay hydrated all workday long.