Citrus has universal appeal

With citrus continuing to grow in popularity as a flavour agent, Elaine Kellman-Grosinger examines some of the reasons behind its long-standing and widespread success

With their high flavour and nutritive value, it is little wonder that citrus flavours are so successful in foods and beverages. They can add life to just about anything, and though they do present some challenges to formulators, these are relatively easy to overcome.

The most common citrus flavours — lemon, orange, lime and grapefruit — have worldwide and nearly universal appeal, and unlike most flavours, they taste consistent throughout all regions of the world. Their popularity is never trendy or seasonal.

They are the most popular flavour in nonalcoholic beverages. Citrus fruits conjure juicy, acidic thoughts, and an automatic mouth-watering sensation occurs.

Consider our habitual ways of serving food and drink. When we put lemon or limes slices in plain water, they can mask any off taste the water might have and give plain water some flavour, making it more drinkable. When people put lemons or limes in beer, they are giving the heavy beer a lighter note. Often beer (especially those in clear glass bottles) develops a skunky note, and the lime or lemon covers that up beautifully. Puerto Rican bars automatically serve a plate of cut limes and salt with their beer. Why do so many people always put lemon slices in carbonated cola beverages? They are really lightening the brown notes of the cola flavour and making the beverage more mouth watering.

In restaurants fish is most often served with a lemon. This may make a nice visual presentation, but in reality it covers the potential 'fishy' notes — another example of citrus as a masking flavour. Because of their high nutritive value and importance in the diet, omega oils are popular and are being used in a number of different products. The problem, of course, is their somewhat unpleasant taste. Lemon seems to work very well in masking that note — there is even a popular, lemon-flavoured fish oil on the market.

Dull flavours and off tastes, whether a soy note or an oily note, seem to take on a new life with a citrus booster. Many noncitrus flavours can benefit from a citrus note.

In addition, citrus flavours are very good blenders. Lemon-berry blends are becoming increasingly popular in the beverage market. Lemon and spices are popular in salad dressings and teas. Orange tropical blends are popular in beverages. Because of their versatility and great blending capabilities, all citrus flavours can successfully blend with just about any flavour and create delicious combinations.

Some challenges
Citrus-oil blends are not water soluble, but citrus flavours can easily be made into different forms and then used in beverages. This is accomplished by making citrus oils into washed extracts, which forces the waxes out, leaving the water-soluble portion. This is then filtered and the resulting washed extract is totally water soluble and can be used in any beverage. Citrus oils can also be made into emulsions, but these will impart a cloud to the finished beverage, which at times is desirable.

They can also be spray dried and then used in any dry product.

Another challenge: Citrus flavours are sensitive to heat, and oxidize easily. Precautions can be taken to avoid this. Citrus oils can be stored at ambient temperatures as long as the containers are full. However, once the oils are used and the headspace increases, the oils must be transferred to a smaller container.

The rise in popularity of organic flavours gives citrus a clear advantage over others
Preservatives like BHA, BHT can protect citrus flavours from oxidation, but often companies do not want to make a preservative claim on their label. If they do, there are some natural alternatives that work as well, such as alpha tocopherols, rosemary oil and rosemary oxides. Ascorbic acid can slow down the oxidation process. Refrigeration also slows down oxidation, and thus extends shelf life.

And as for organic flavours, their rise in popularity gives citrus flavours a clear advantage over many others, as there are numerous USDA organic citrus orchards, and citrus oils are more readily available than ever before. Accordingly, high-quality and high-impact organic citrus flavours can be developed, and the finished product's organic integrity remains.

For the uses of citrus as a flavour agent, the possibilities appear to be almost endless. When working with citrus, don't be afraid to be creative and think outside the box.

You never know, your new taste treat may set the next trend.

Elaine Kellman-Grosinger is director of research and development for Citroil Enterprises.

A rich history
Throughout the ages, citrus fruits have been symbols of eternal love, happiness and even holiness. In some cultures they represented chastity or fruitfulness. Arab women were known to colour their hair with the essential oils from citrus fruits, and Nostradamus wrote about how to use the different parts of the fruits to make cosmetics.

Oranges were first seen in the Malay Archipelago near the South China Sea. By some accounts, oranges were known in fourth century Greece as the "Golden Citron from the Garden of Hesperides," and in Rome were said to have been the wedding gift to Jupiter and Juno from Tellus, Goddess of the Earth, and also Paris' gift to Aphrodite by which Paris was to win Helen of Troy.

Citron seeds were found in Mesopotamian excavations dating back to 4000 BC. The armies of Alexander the Great are thought to have carried the citron to the Mediterranean region about 300 BC.

The abundant orange crops in Florida and Brazil are said to be attributable to the seeds Christopher Columbus brought to the New World in 1493.

Lemons are believed to have originated either in Malaysia, China, Persia, Asia Minor or the Indus Valley. They were being cultivated in the Middle East and in Greece as well as early as the first century. By the second century Libya was exporting them to Rome. In the eighth and ninth centuries Arabs were planting lemons in the Sahara, Andalusia and Sicily. Columbus is again credited with bringing the seeds for limes to the New World, where they were planted in areas like Haiti.

Lemons arrived in Tucuman, Argentina with the conquistadors in the 1600s, but didn't really get their start until the Spanish and Italian immigration in the 1910-1930s. To this day, Argentina remains one of the world's largest growers of lemons.

Limes are believed to be native to the tropical regions of Asia and the Malay Archipelago. They are linked botanically to the lemon, but actually are more prominent in tropical regions, as opposed to lemons, which are grown more in the subtropics. There are three basic kinds of limes: Mexican, Tahitian and Key. The Tahitians are very acidic, Mexicans are sweeter and aromatic, and Key limes are juicy with a strong sharp flavour. Limes are not hardy enough to grow in Mediterranean countries, as are other citrus fruits.

Grapefruit is a puzzle to historians. It did not originate in Asia, as other citrus varieties, but seems to have originated in Polynesia where the English explorer Captain James Cook found them and then brought them to the West Indies. Shaddocks, which are closely related to the grapefruit and considered by many to be the original grapefruit, were found in Spain in the 12th century. They were introduced to Florida by the chief surgeon in Napoleon's army, who brought them from France.

— E.K.

Citrus highlights
Citrus fruits belong to the Rutaceae family, which includes oranges, lemons, limes, citrons, grapefruits, tangerines, mandarins, clementines and satsumas.

They are a unique category of fruit in that they are full of fragrance and flavour and contain oil and juice. The skin or rind protects the fruit and contains glands that have high levels of essential oils that are high in aroma and the core of all citrus flavours.

The internal part makes the pulp and contains the juice sacs, which are rich in soluble sugars, vitamin C, pectin, fibres, organic acids and potassium salt. These give the fruit its characteristic citrine flavour. This unique combination of an oil-soluble and water-soluble form of the fruit adds to the complexity of the citrus family, and makes these fruits, flavours and juices so easy to use.

Citrus fruits are eaten whole, and processed for their juice and their oils. The juice is for consumer use and for use in foods and beverages. The oils are used to flavour beverages, foods and confections, and to add fragrance to cosmetics and a wide array of personal-care and household products.

Oranges are the major fruit in the citrus group, and the most common processed form is orange juice.

Oranges top the list of consumed fruits, including fresh and processed. More than 40 per cent of globally produced oranges are processed, mostly for orange juice.

Citrus flavours are the leading flavouring in all nonalcoholic beverages, and are also popular in confection, baked goods and savoury food products. From a commercial standpoint, citrus fruits are grown in many countries around the world and rank first in value in international fruit trade.

— E.K.

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