Citron: Varieties, Nutrition and Gastronomical Uses
The ancient citron fruit is a kind of fragrant, aromatic, lumpy looking, large lemon. It is one of the oldest fruits to be cultivated, yet, nowadays it is usually only found in processed baked goods like cookies and fruit cakes or sold candied. It is hardly ever sold fresh.
Citron ( Citrus medica) is a member of the Rutaceae family of citrus fruits and is thought to have originated from China or possibly northeastern India. Evidence of its cultivation can be traced back to 300 B.C in Egyptian archeological man-uscripts. Citron was later described in detail by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, in his book Natural History. Citron holds a particular importance in Judaism. It is thought to be the fruit of knowledge eaten by Adam. Also a variety of citron called Etrog is grown in Israel and is used to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Citron is predominantly cultivated in the Mediterranean region, most notably Corsica, Crete, Greece, Sicily and Italy. It is also commercially cultivated in southern Asia. Citron isn’t a citrus fruit in the conventional sense with a sweet juicy flesh encompassed by pith and peel. By contrast the flesh is rather dry and has many pits that are enclosed by a thick white membrane covered by a tangy aromatic zest.
Corsican Citron: This is a variety which is yellow-green and is slightly elongated with lumpy or ripped skin. It is strongly scented and is primarily used to prepare the liquor ‘cedratine.’ Corsican citron was introduced to California in the late nineteenth century.
Buddha’s Hand Citron: This strange looking fruit resembles a disfigured hand, often with twelve or more, long, twisting, bright yellow fingers. In China and Japan Buddha’s hand citron, or fingered citron, is a familiar sight. It is considered a symbol of good fortune, longevity and luck. Often it can be seen at the side of cash registers in stores or in Buddhist temples, as an offering.
Buddha’s hand citron is also grown in California, mostly as an ornamental. Many fine dinning restaurants use this variety of citron to flavor desserts and savory dishes. Its zest adds a perfumy flavor to sauces, risottos, vinaigrettes, sorbets and ice cream, that ordinary lemon zest doesn’t have. For home use, Buddha’s hand citron can be placed in a bowl for its fragrant aroma or used as a center piece for fruit platters and flower arrangements. Citron can also be used to flavor vodka or rum. Simply submerge the citron in the liquor and cover for 4-5 days, strain into a bottle. The infused liquor can replace plain liquor in many recipes, for an aromatic touch.
Buying and Storing: Fresh citron is rarely available, although it can sometimes be found in the larger specialty produce stores. Look for bright yellow citron or yellow-green citron that is firm with no soft spots. Citron can be stored at room temperature for up to two weeks and refrigerated for up to a month. Store candied citron at room temperature in an air tight container.
Nutrition: Citron has an exceptionally high amount of vitamin C, and as such it has been a traditional preventative and cure for scurvy. The fruit is also a sudorific and febrifuge. It is used for the treatment of yellow fever, pneumonia, flu and chest colds. In China citron seeds are ground and taken as a digestive cleanser and to aid digestion.
Citron contains the flavonoids limonene and gamma-terpinene. Studies have demonstrated that these antioxidants can help prevent the oxidative damage from free radicals by triggering detoxification enzymes in the liver. There are also studies to suggest the antioxidant activity in citron could be harnessed as medication for pain and inflammation.