AKA Cedro (Italian) Cedrat (French).
BY NICK MACMAHON | 17 JULY 2019
Citron is one of the original three species of citrus fruits, along with mandarin and pomelo. Almost all common citrus fruits are hybrids involving these three. Orange is a hybrid of mandarin and pomelo. Grapefruit, a hybrid of orange and pomelo.
The citron is a big fruit but don’t be fooled by the size. It's mostly pith, with about the same amount of pulp and juice as a regular lemon. It isn’t hugely useful in everyday eating therefore it is a pretty rare fruit to come across. You can find it growing in many places in Italy and some do make their way over to the UK (Puntarelle & Co will stock some when in season).
Not very good for juicing but the whole thing is edible. Mostly, it is used for candying (a key ingredient in the Italian bread cake Panetonne), turning into a syrup or steeping in alcohol (like limoncello).
Rather than an eating fruit, citron is primarily used for its unique fragrance. Most fruits over the past couple centuries have been selectively bred for characteristics favourable to industrial production and transportation over flavour and smell. The citron on the other hand, not a popular consumer fruit, has been bred for its flavour and fragrance. Commercially, the citron is mostly sold for candied fruit or processed for essential oils and perfumes.
The Italians use the pith in a number of different dishes. It is spongey and soft and ideal for soaking up liquids, kind of like eggplant. Insalata di Cedro is a fresh salad of thinly sliced citron pith, olives, onions, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. Sounds interesting and very Italian.
The pulp and peel can be used to make a syrup. I imagine it would make a damn good lemon drizzle cake. Or, add water to make a lemonade-type drink. Citronade, if you will. The Italians do produce a drink called ‘Cedrata’ which is a bright-yellow, bitter, sparkling drink made with citron syrup. Kind of like a citrus tonic water.
There is also a few variants of the citron, one that you may have seen is the Buddha’s Hand. Really crazy looking. Think citron but with long fingers.