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Original photo by Tana Danyuk/ Shutterstock
8 Bright Facts About Citrus Fruits
Read Time: 4m
Article image
Original photo by Tana Danyuk/ Shutterstock

A little sweet, a little sour — citrus fruits brighten up any meal, from breakfast to happy hour cocktails. Evolving over the course of 25 million years from just a few citrus species, today’s selection of grapefruits, oranges, lemons, and more has been eons in the making. These eight juicy facts about citrus may just give you a deeper appreciation for these pulp-packed fruits.

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Many Citrus Fruits Are Sold in Red Bags For a Reason

Oranges in red mesh bag.
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Citrus growers often bundle together bunches of oranges in mesh bags, which you may have noticed are made from red plastic. It’s no coincidence; red bags against orange peels create an optical illusion that makes the fruit appear more vibrantly hued and enticing. The trick works for other citrus — like mandarins, clementines, tangerines, and even some grapefruit — though not all. Yellow citrus, like lemons, are often sold in yellow or green bags to create a similar color-popping effect.

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Most Citrus Fruits Are Hybrids

View of cut and uncut oranges.
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Many researchers believe that all citrus fruit can be traced back to just three species: pomelos, citrons, and mandarins. Citrus trees of different species are reproductively compatible with one another; over time, cross-breeding between these “ancestor fruits” created the hybrids known as grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes, and other citrus varieties enjoyed today.

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Orange Peels Are Packed With Vitamin C

Half an orange peeled of skin.
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Oranges are a go-to food for many when battling a cold, thanks to the fact that they’re packed with vitamin C — though some research suggests that the nutrient doesn’t actually prevent colds, and may only slightly cut short how long a cold lasts. Another hitch in eating oranges to help illnesses is that much of the fruit’s vitamin C is found in its peel. Just one tablespoon of the outer rind contains 14% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C, which is about three times more than what’s found in the inner flesh.

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British Sailors Got Their Nickname From Limes

James Lind Giving Citrus Fruits to Sailors with Scurvy.
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

Regardless of the flag they were working under, nearly all sailors of the past shared a common enemy: scurvy. The disease, caused by a vitamin C deficiency, plagued sailors who were unable to regularly consume fresh fruits and vegetables while out at sea. The British Royal Navy began supplying its sailors with lemons and lime juice in 1795, though not all countries picked up on the practice. During the War of 1812, skeptical American sailors nicknamed their British counterparts “limeys” to mock the practice — though the U.S. Navy eventually started doing it too.

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The Largest Citrus Fruit Can Reach Basketball Size

Fresh cut and whole pomelo fruits with green leaves.
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Pomelos are grapefruit-like citrus native to Southeast Asia, known for their yellow rinds and pink inner flesh — not to mention their size. The jumbo citrus fruits can grow up to the size of a basketball and weigh as much as 22 pounds. In comparison, kumquats are the smallest known citrus, maturing at a max length of around 2 inches. (Kumquats are also the only citrus fruit you can easily eat without peeling.)

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Clementines and Mandarins Are Technically Different Fruits

Ripe orange tangerines in basket.
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What’s small, orange, and easy to peel? Both clementines and mandarins, which explains why these two nearly identical citrus fruits are often confused. However, botanists say there is a difference. Clementines are an offshoot variety of mandarins, created by crossing mandarins and sweet oranges. That means all clementines are technically a type of mandarin, though all mandarins are not clementines.

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Grapefruit Can Interfere With Some Medications

Grapefruits at a farmers market.
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Grapefruits are packed with vitamins and fiber that support heart and gut health, though people who rely on some medications are often warned away from consuming the fruits. That’s because grapefruit juice can affect how medications work. Some drugs, like those for cholesterol and high blood pressure, are metabolized in the body by the CYP3A4 enzyme found in the small intestine. Grapefruit juice can block that enzyme, which stops the medication from breaking down and causes too much to enter the bloodstream. Other drugs, like fexofenadine (Allegra) for allergies, use proteins called transporters to enter cells in the body; grapefruit juice can block this process and cause too little of the drug to circulate, rendering it ineffective.

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Oranges Were Once A Luxurious Christmas Gift

Plate with healthy oranges and slices.
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Oranges are relatively inexpensive today, though 19th-century Europeans who woke to find them in their stockings on Christmas morning considered the fruits a grand gift. The tradition of receiving an orange as a holiday present dates to the 1800s, when Christmas revelers widely began hanging stockings on the mantle, and is commonly linked to the tale of St. Nicholas of Myra, a fourth-century bishop who reportedly tossed bags of gold into the drying stockings of poor maidens. Oranges — which were generally a rare and expensive fruit in Victorian times — represented St. Nicholas’ gifted gold, and became linked with the holiday.