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What Is a Sumo Orange—And Should You Be Eating Them?

What Is a Sumo Orange—And Should You Be Eating Them?


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The massive citrus variety has taken over Instagram for its funky aesthetic and delicious flavor.

If you follow any food-related Instagram accounts, chances are you’ve seen these giant, lumpy oranges taking over your feed. The seedless, super-sweet, easy-to-peel citrus seems like the orange industry’s version of the honeycrisp apple with its high price and high demand. Our staff has been fascinated with these monstrous oranges, and we decided to take a deep dive into the weird and wonderful world of this ugly fruit.

What is a Sumo Citrus orange?

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According to Suntreat, the U.S. producer of the fruit, sumo citrus oranges are a “dekopon”—a cross-breed between a satsuma and mandarin-pomelo variety. The juicy, ultra-sweet oranges were developed in Japan with traditional plant-breeding techniques (so they are non-GMO), where they are often given as gifts.

Sumo citrus oranges have an iconic thick outer layer that’s easy to peel, thanks to the lack of albedo—the white netting around the sections. However, the fruit bruises easily, so the oranges have to be hand-picked. They have a short growing season—from January to April—so you can really only find them during the first few months of the year.

Why are Sumo Citrus oranges so expensive?

Suntreat, located in the San Joaquin Valley of California, is the only grower of sumo citrus in the U.S. and began producing the fruit in 2011. Sumo Citrus trees are difficult to grow and need at least four years of care before they can start producing, and the oranges require gentle handling once ripened. The fruit is so delicate that producers must apply a natural clay-based sunscreen on the peels throughout the summertime for protection!

Once the fruit is picked at peak ripeness, it’s then carefully transported to a specific packaging facility for testing. Each Sumo Citrus orange is measured for proper sugar and acid levels and gets tossed out if it doesn’t meet the producer’s high standards.

Interested in learning more about produce?

Where can I find Sumo Citrus oranges?

Though sure to not be in stores for much longer due to their short growing season, you can currently find sumo citrus oranges at dozens of food retailers across the country. Some of the most notable retailers are Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, Target, Publix, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s. Now’s the time to find them on sale too, as they are finishing up their season.

Should I be choosing Sumo Citrus oranges over other varieties?

Not necessarily. This delicious fruit is prized for being a novelty more than a health food, and while a higher source of fiber, Vitamin C, and calcium than the average orange, that is mostly due to its massive size! However, since the fruit is produced with low-acid levels, they could be useful for those who don’t tolerate acidic foods well.


The Sumo Wrestler's Diet

A sumo wrestler's success depends on his weight. The larger the wrestler, the better chance he has in the competition. A sumo wrestler's diet, therefore, is aimed entirely at helping wrestlers to gain weight as quickly and efficiently as possible. Besides food intake, the timing of meals and exercise also play an important role in weight gain.


Where do Sumo oranges come from?

While some people refer to the fruit as Sumo oranges, that&aposs not actually correct, since they&aposre not technically oranges. Sumo Citrus® is the actual trademarked brand name for this distinct treat, made from a hybrid of Navel, Mandarin, and Pomelo citrus fruits. Originally cultivated in Japan, Sumo seedlings were imported into the US in the late 1990s, according to the fruit&aposs website. But because the fruit is challenging to grow, it wasn&apost made available to consumers until 2011. Now, farmers in California make Sumo oranges available to US customers.

But there&aposs a catch: Because the growing season is long, and the fruit is carefully hand picked and hand packed, Sumos are only available between January and April. One note: because of the special growing needs and limited season, Sumo is also slightly more expensive than other common types of citrus.


Chankonabe: The choice of sumo

Although hearty, chankonabe is actually quite healthy. It’s not your triple Whopper or deep-fried pizza. The stew is full of fresh veggies, tofu, fish and either pork, chicken or beef.
In case they aren’t full after the goodies are eaten and there’s just soup left, the sumo often dump a pile of noodles into the bowl.

You can eat chankonabe at restaurants throughout Japan. It comes in a number of different flavours including salt, soy sauce, miso, kimchee and more. Just bring a good appetite.

The restaurants in the Ryogoku area of Tōkyō, known as “Sumo Town” because it’s the home of the Japan Sumo Association, are particularly popular. You can also find other restaurants there that tailor to rikishi and serve ridiculously large dishes of curry and other typical meals.

Editor’s note: The National Geographic video below is worth watching if you’re interested in this topic:


Citrus Information

Honeybell Oranges, also known as Minneola Tangelos, are a citrus fruit. They are actually hybrids of a Darcy Tangerine and Duncan Grapefruit.

Honeybells are usually the size of an adult fist and have a mixed sweet and sour flavor of the sweet mandarin and the tart flavored grapefruit. They’re also very juicy - usually way more juice than it has flesh. Since they have loose skin, they are pretty easy to peel, especially when compared to regular oranges.

In 1931, the Honeybell oranges were released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Horticulture Research Station in Orlando. You can easily identify Honeybells by their stem-end neck, which gives it a bell shape, that gave it its name.

It has a bright red orange color when it is fully mature. The skin is thin, making it a quick snack. Although it comes from a tangerine mix, they come in large sizes usually between 3 and 3 ½ inches in diameter. You can also find between 0 and 12 seeds - 10 on average - in each Honeybell orange.

These oranges are very fruitful on their own, so they must be interplanted with pollenizers, like Sunburst Tangerines, Temple Tangerines or Fallglo Tangerines, but each year there is usually a full crop to be plucked. Farmers usually plant them with mandarin orange or tangelo trees - this helps with the cross pollination and the crop overall. You can find them ripening between December and February - January is the peak month.

These make for great fruits during the winter.

The best place for the Honeybell to grow is in Floridian climates. They aren’t the most profitable orange to grow because their crop sizes are very unpredictable each year. Some years will offer abundance and others scarcity - this is why sometimes you see that they cost a bit more one year and cheaper the next. It is still the most popularly grown of the tangelo types.

Honeybell Tangelos are great for all sorts of dishes, including fruit salads, green salads and fruit drinks. Some even put vinaigrette dressing on them. Honeybells can also be placed on top of focaccia. Grilled Honeybell oranges are also a popular choice. Marinades made with Honeybell oranges are a great choice, too.


Nutrition comparison

Like most citrus fruit, the Sumo Citrus is a useful source of vitamin C. It is also high in dietary fiber, potassium, and folate. The occasional serving of this fruit will help ward off those pesky colds that are all too common in the cooler months.

Compared to the other popular citrus cultivars we tested, a Sumo Citrus is higher in sugar with less fiber and vitamin C. When you create a new fruit that wins in so many areas, something has to give. These numbers aren’t exactly a deal-breaker for the fruit though. If you eat them in moderation, the Sumo certainly beats junk food and tastes better too!

Check out the table below to compare the nutritional value of various types of citrus fruit.

Fruit (120g)CaloriesFat (Total)CarbsFiberSugarVitamin C
Sumo Citrus60016g2g13g30mg
Murcott51.4013.7g2.6g10.3g54mg
Afourer52014g3.2g10g55mg
Navel54.5016.4g5.5g10.9g60.8mg
Tangelo56014.1g2.9g11.2g63.8mg


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What are antioxidants?

Before talking about what an antioxidant is, it helps to understand what we mean by another wellness buzzword: “free radical.” Free radicals refer to any molecule in your body that contains an unpaired electron, which makes them very unstable and keeps them looking for other compounds to bind to. Free radicals can serve some important functions in the body, such as signaling between cells, but because they are so reactive, they can also cause damage to cells through a process called oxidative stress.

Your body generates free radicals during activities like digestion and vigorous exercise, and in response to things like UV light exposure, pollution, smoking, and certain diseases, Chwan-Li (Leslie) Shen, Ph.D., associate dean for research at Texas Tech University Health Sciences, tells SELF. It’s when free radicals are produced in excess that they can become problematic.

Antioxidants, on the other hand, can help keep these free radicals in check. Antioxidants are compounds—either made in your body or consumed from external sources—that help neutralize free radicals and other molecules in your body that can damage cells and tissues, Mahdi Garelnabi, Ph.D., an associate professor of biomedical and nutrition sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, tells SELF. They do this through a variety of mechanisms, such as by lending an electron to a free radical to make it less reactive or by binding to a substance in a way that prevents further reactions.

By stabilizing these free radicals, antioxidants can also help your immune system function more efficiently and mitigate chronic inflammation, which is thought to be a driving force for many health problems, like cardiovascular disease and cancer. Antioxidants may also, through separate mechanisms, help repair DNA and cell membranes.


What exactly has Sumo orange lovers hooked?

We've got some ideas. Maybe it's their sexy origin story. As Los Angeles Times tells it, in Japan Sumo Citrus are called "Dekopon." Once, they were smuggled into the United States by a Japanese religious and farming cult. Suntreat did it legally, but it kept its operations a closely-guarded secret. The company even made its growers sign confidentiality agreements. As per the newspaper, "No one was supposed to even breathe the word 'Dekopon.'" (You're hooked now, aren't you?)

Or, maybe it's the extraordinary amount of care that goes into picking the fruit. Jerry Callahan of the supermarket chain Albertsons told CNN that Sumo Citrus is "probably the world's most pampered fruit." Omakase berries, aka "The Tesla of Strawberries," might give them a serious run for their money. But that doesn't mean that harvesting a Dekopon isn't tremendously labor-intensive. Each individual Sumo orange is hand-picked and carefully pallet-packed so as not to bruise the fruit's incredibly delicate skin. And not every fruit grown on Suntreat's orchards makes the cut. According to the company's website, growers are meticulously trained "to determine which pieces of fruit are good enough to be called Sumo Citrus."

Probably, the hybrid fruit can thank its popularity to a combination of all of those things, and its decisively unique taste profile. Jerry Callahan told CNN that when he first tried Sumo Citrus he knew that "This is going to go crazy." As the grocery store executive gushed: "The eating experience, there's just nothing like it."


The Scoop on Sumo Citrus

“Off-the-charts sweet.” “Ridiculously easy to peel… and seedless!” “The best citrus fruit I have ever tasted.”

So report some of the many, many fans of sumo citrus, the navel-mandarin-pomelo hybrid that is sweeping the social media of fruit fans stateside. Perfected after 30 years of hard work in Japan, it blazed into American awareness when Instagram icon and children’s book author Eva Chen talked it up in a post.

Though it was difficult to get your paws on sumo citrus for a long time, the fruit darling of the fashion world is newly available all over the place stateside. It even has its own website, like a proper branded fruit does nowadays. Find sumo citrus at a grocery store or order for delivery now until around April. Here’s what makes it wonderful.

1. Its Looks

Courtesy of sumocitrus.com

You couldn’t show up to a party just carrying a bunch of grapes instead of a bottle of wine. You wouldn’t look generous you’d look cheap (or like a Roman statue). But these babies are huge, sitting in the palm of your hand like they own the place. The little bubble on top, part of their unique appeal, garnered them the nickname dekopon, or “topknot,” in Japan. And sumo citrus isn’t inexpensive you’ll look like a smart, tasteful guest bringing this instead of wine.

2. Its Heritage

It took the Japanese thirty years to develop these using natural methods. They trace to the 1970s in Japan, and although seedlings were transported to the U.S. in the 1990s, it took until 2011 for them to become available to the public. They are notoriously difficult to grow, and it takes a long time for the fruit to ripen on the tree.

3. Its Wow Factor

It was only very recently that this fruit became available stateside, and only this year that it became very widely available. They grow in California but you can find them coast-to-coast in grocery stores.

4. Its Sweetness

Maybe the scent of an orange conjures soccer games of your youth and exhausted, obligatory sideline citrus consumption. This doesn’t. It blooms with a bouquet of mandarin sweetness when you peel it (which, by the by, is a snap compared to a traditional orange). It’s so sweet, nearly off-the-chart sweet, that you can add it to a smoothie bowl or granola and skip the sweetener. It makes a cheese board something guests can’t resist. And it’s almost more of a dessert than a fruit to eat out of hand. Set these out after a hearty meal and get zero complaints.

But don’t take our word for it. Learn more about sumo citrus and order them to your door here.


Watch the video: Sumo Wrestler Challenge (November 2022).