When our days are dark, brighten them up with all kinds of citrus. Winter is citrus season. Sometimes referred to as edible sunshine, citrus provides us with bright oranges, reds, yellows and pinks. These bright colors come from flavonoids, which are type of phytonutrient.

Phytonutrients have antioxidant properties and are associated with the prevention of many diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Another prominent antioxidant in citrus is vitamin C. Vitamin C plays an important role in our immune systems and it also helps with tissue repair. Don’t forget about fiber. Citrus has a higher amount of soluble fiber than insoluble fiber, compared to other fruits. Soluble fiber helps reduce cholesterol, maintain stable blood glucose levels and promote regular bowel function.

When buying citrus, look for blemish-free rinds. Some color variations are OK, but the rind should be bright in color, and the fruit should feel dense. One benefit of citrus is that it stays fresh for a long time. Show off those bright colors and keep a fruit bowl in your kitchen or dining room. If kept at room temperature, you should consume the fruit within a few days, but citrus stays fresh in the refrigerator for well over a week.

Adventure out and try new varieties. Just within the orange family, there are multiple varieties that are commonly found in our local grocery stores. Navel oranges are bright, have a firm rind, and are sweet but a bit more bitter than other varieties of oranges. Clementines are small and easy to peel, making them the perfect grab-and-go snack. Cara Cara oranges — my favorite — are sweeter, with bright pink flesh. Blood oranges are slightly more bitter but still have a rich berry note and dark orange, red flesh. Beyond oranges, try white or red grapefruit, pomelos, lemons, limes, kumquats or tangerines.

Don’t forget to use the whole fruit. While the inside flesh is the most commonly consumed part, the rind has a lot of health and culinary benefits as well. The rind has the highest concentration of oils, and that equates to having the most flavor. I like using rinds in my cooking. They can be dried and ground into powder to use as a spice. Rinds can also be candied, preserved or consumed raw. Kumquats are variety that have a thin rind and are consumed whole or sliced with the rind on. Slice all citrus rinds thin to add to stir fries or salads.

Homemade Citrus Rinds

Thoroughly wash and dry the fruit. Use a vegetable peeler or small knife to cut away the colored part of the rind. Try not to get much of the white pith. You can cook the rinds in a 200-degree oven for about 30 minutes or leave them on the counter in a dry location for three to four days. Once the rinds are dry, store them in a dry, clean jar. Dried rinds can be chopped or ground in a spice grinder and used like you would a spice. Blend the dried rinds with other spices to make spice blends like lemon pepper. Sprinkle these spices on meat, seafood or vegetables. You can use the rinds to flavor sugar or oil, for use in baking or salad dressings. I use a lot of citrus, especially rinds in beverages such as tea and cocktails.

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