Saturday, March 28, 2015

What the heck is that? Honeybells

Sometimes it's good to be the Produce Savant.

Sometimes people give you things. Produce things.

My friend Tim, a Florida native, gave me this fruit, and described it as particularly sweet, juicy, and "orangy."  

I recognized this citrus celebrity right away from wintertime ads in the New York Times. A Honeybell! It had a distinctive shape - I imagined a regular orange wearing a cap with a tassel cocked at a jaunty angle - and skin that looked like it would be easy to peel. I knew Honeybells had a very short season, that they grew along the Indian River, Florida's Citrus Central, and that they were sold by the dozen in fancy, hand-packed gift boxes. I don't typically get my produce via gift box, so I had never had the chance to try a Honeybell - until now.

Honeybells are a kind of Minneola tangelos. (In a rare example of balance, Minneola tangelos are often called Minneolas and just as often called tangelos.) Minneola tangelos are a cross between a grapefruit or pomelo and a tangerine, a hybrid that was the 1931 brainchild of the USDA Horticultural Research Station in Orlando, a kind of citrus counterpart to the apple world's Agricultural Experiment Station in New York.

The point of such agricultural tinkering is to end up with a fruit with the best qualities of its parents, in this case, a fruit with the size of a small grapefruit and the juicy, sweet taste of a tangerine. Interestingly, even though both tangerines and grapefruit have seeds, Honeybells have few or none.

Tim wasn't kidding about the juiciness of Honeybells. They are indeed juicy! I didn't test this out, but supposedly just two honeybells can yield a nice full glass of juice. Some gift boxes even come with a bib.

Overall, the Honeybell was as sweet, juicy and intensely "orangy" as promised. Thanks, Tim!

But what if you can't get a Honeybell? Their short growing season is over, and you might not want to order a gift box of them for next year. While befriending a Floridian is always a good strategy, you can also pursue another path: finding the more humble "regular" tangelo.

I learned that Minneolas aren't the only kind of tangelos: Minneolas have a sister hybrid, Orlando, with the same grapefruit/tangerine parentage. Minneolas are a little bigger and easier to peel. Orlandos come out a little earlier in the season and consequently may be less sweet than Minneolas. According to New York fruit vendor parlance, all tangelos are "Minneolas"; I've never seen any tangelo called "Orlando."

With the Honeybell a fresh memory, I returned to the more humble regular ol' Minneola, which don't seem seasonally limited.

Reasonably similar...

Hmm... are those seeds I see?

Well, humble Minneolas still taste very good. Sweet and rich, with a refreshingly tart undertone.

And if they're not quite as sweet and juicy as their fancy Honeybell counterparts, these humble Minneolas have a humble price to match. 

Best of all, they're still around to enjoy.

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