Deep in California’s San Joaquin valley, dedicated farmers cultivate the Sumo citrus, which has taken the produce world by storm with its lusciously sweet taste and aroma. This is where the journey starts for one of the most delicious fruits you’ll ever try.
The story of the Sumo starts in Japan, where in the 1970s a grower first developed the dekopon, a mandarin-orange hybrid, that became sought after within the country for its exceptional taste, which is sweet with low acidity. The fruit remained largely unknown in the United States for decades. But as farmer Roger Smith puts it, “When the Japanese are excited about something, we know that there’s a consumer preference out there that’s going to equate to the United States market.” In 2011, the dekopon launched stateside under the Sumo brand name. At the time, this fat, knobby fruit competed with popular citrus varieties that were delicate and smooth. But word of the Sumo’s extraordinary flavor spread quickly, and so at FreshDirect we knew we had to find a way to share it with our customers.
Now, every year we await the return of this special seasonal item, making the most of its limited season from late winter to early spring. It is exceptionally flavorful and juicy, making it great for squeezing, slicing up into salads, and incorporating into citrus recipes. But it’s best enjoyed simply on its own, which is something of an experience to behold. The thick skin peels off easily, revealing loose but meaty citrus segments beneath, which separate from one another with a visceral snap.
The Sumo’s growing process is meticulous—grower Matt McEwen says that “It requires probably three times the amount of attention and care that our other citrus varieties do.” After weeks of waiting for the fruit to ripen, they’re picked and packed into crates with special air bags that keep them from shifting around and bruising. The Sumos go from the field to our facilities in the shortest time possible, in controlled environments that keep them fresh, so that when they arrive to you, they’re at the peak of perfection.
Sumo sales director Naomi Kausen knows exactly what it takes to deliver such extraordinary fruit: “Just the unique experience of having the best citrus you’ve probably ever had—I actually think of all the hard work that goes into growing it every year. I would say that’s something to be proud of…. I think that everybody who is a piece of this takes pride in it.”
Recipes to make with Sumo citrus