One of the advantages of citrus is its defiance of seasonality. It can just as easily conjure up a summery vibe—think lemonade or Key lime pie—as it can signal the best of fall/winter—think blood orange sorbet or citrus-scented cheesecake. But beyond its versatility is the power of its freshness cues. Nothing brightens up a menu descriptor like the evocative words at its disposal: zest, splash, candied, tart, juice, sweet. Perhaps because of its all-season versatility and its freshness appeal, along with an unrivaled flavor profile, citrus is always in play on menus. Here are 12 ways chefs are developing flavors, highlighting brightness, jacking up acidity, dialing up sweetness, preserving, pickling, drying, candying—all expanding citrus’ flavor-building horizons.
Think of it as a seed-to-skin solution, using all of the citrus fruit. Peel that’s been candied in sugary syrup makes a stunning cocktail garnish, or take it a step further and dehydrate the peel, making an orange “chip” as a salad inclusion or dessert accent.
- The Ghost of Hemingway: Bacardi rum, lime and grapefruit juices, maraschino liqueur over basil ice with a candied grapefruit peel on the rim—1700˚ Steakhouse, Harrisburg, Pa.
- Matcha almond shortbread cookie with candied orange peel—Woodford Reserve, Versailles, Ky.
2. Juices & Smoothies
The world of juices and smoothies has exploded over the last few years, so the name of the game now is flavor innovation. Citrus varietals lend support here, offering their bright, acidic, sweet, varied profiles and positive health cues.
- The Sublime: Lime, orange, parsley, kale, spinach and cucumber—Nekter Juice Bar, multiple locations
- Citrus Mango Greens Smoothie—Red Mango, multiple locations
Lesser known than preserved, dried citrus offers a lot of menu potential. Dried limes are the leader in this category, thanks to the exploration of Middle Eastern dishes. But any citrus fruit can be dried, offering up an aromatic tang while also providing an undercurrent of funkiness. Try them in dry rubs for steaks or chops, finishing soups or stews, and added to cooking liquids of rices and other grains.
- Tas Kebab: Braised beef cheek, roasted carrots, cipollini onions, quince, dried lime and cinnamon—Mamnoon, Washington, D.C.
- Olives Marines au Citron: Mixed olives marinated with dried lemon, garlic and olive oil —Cafe Presse, Seattle
With strategic accents, lemonade has moved beyond summer, refreshing consumers whatever time of year. The opportunity for upgrades, signature touches and memorable flavor combinations is endless. According to United Fresh Produce Assn., the top five trending lemonade ingredients are: fresh herbs, cucumber, pomegranate, muddled fruit and alternative sweeteners.
- Lavender Lemonade: French lavender steeped with fresh lemons and sweetened with unrefined organic sugar—Native Foods Café, multiple locations
- Housemade Lemonade rimmed with sugar: Original lemon, raspberry, mango, peach, watermelon or pomegranate—Not Your Average Joe’s, multiple locations
- Blackberry Whiskey Lemonade: Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine and housemade lemonade—Gordon Biersch, multiple locations
Oils infused with citrus are lifted into another dimension, adding a little zing to a luxurious mouthfeel. At 229 Parks in Denali National Park, Alaska, Chef/Owner Laura Cole drizzles Meyer lemon oil over a salad of endive, apples and shaved Parmesan.
- Grilled Octopus Small Plate with a citrus and paprika oil, fingerling potatoes, capers, fresh fennel and arugula—Harvest by Kelly Liken, Edwards, Colo.
- Daiquiri Brutal, made with rum, lime juice and orange oil—Bazaar Meat, Las Vegas
Intense, sweet and floral, syrups bring signature flavor to whatever they drizzle or infuse—from cakes, creams and custards to cocktails, housemade sodas and lemonades. Chefs are combining citrus with other flavors, making them tell a compelling flavor story, like lemon-chamomile syrup or Thai chile and lime syrup.
- Focaccia French toast with Nutella whipped cream, candied orange syrup and goat butter—Coda di Volpe, Chicago
- Fresh and Healthy Fruit Plate: Orchard apples, bananas and seasonal fruits, elderflower-citrus syrup and fresh torn mint
—Talula’s Garden, Philadelphia
Chefs have always turned to lemon, lime and orange zest for a punch of brightness, but they’re calling it out on menus with more frequency. They’re also extending zest’s reach, adding it to pastas, toasts and grilled meats, signaling fresh, clean flavor.
- Parisian-style gnocchi flecked with black pepper and lemon zest—Bramble House, Vashon, Wash.
- Striped bass with charred peaches, brown butter, toasted walnut and orange zest—The Oceanaire Seafood Room, multiple locations
Citrus salt, lemon sugar, blood orange bitters—all are evocative and delicious sounding. They also lend beverages and dishes premium positioning and a sense of place. Recchiuti Confections in
San Francisco serves Key Lime Pears from September to February. Here, Bartlett pears are sliced paper-thin, then infused in lime juice and dipped in bittersweet chocolate.
- Quiote: Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Green Chartreuse, Schilling & Co. grapefruit cider and smoked Himalayan lime salt—District Distilling Co., Washington, D.C.
- Orange Ginger Edamame: Steamed to order, sprinkled with zest citrus salt, orange peel and chile flakes—P.F. Chang’s, multiple locations
Citrus fruits are ripe with personality and place. Calling out their varietals helps tap into that, giving diners a more detailed picture while illustrating attention to detail. Datassential’s MenuTrends is tracking the four-year growth of citrus varietals, reporting that cara cara menu mentions are up 260 percent, blood orange is up 153 percent and yuzu is up 90 percent.
- Blood Orange Sangria: Seasonal sangria with Bacardi Limón, Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, St-Germain elderflower, blood orange purée and fresh agave nectar—California Pizza Kitchen, multiple locations
- Big Eye Tuna, cara cara orange, mizuna—Miminashi, Napa, Calif.
Preserving citrus, like lemons or limes, introduces a savoriness that is hard to beat. Citrus umami, if you will. You also get the floral notes from the peel, making it a multidimensional flavor experience. Preserved lemons are a hallmark of Middle Eastern cookery. And in India, limes are preserved in a salty brine, then spiced with aromatics, livening up curries, rice dishes, soups and more.
- Ama’s Signature Guacamole: Chunky, citrus-spiked mash with preserved lime and orange zest—Ama Cocina, Albany, N.Y.
- Spaghettini with Florida Gulf Shrimp, preserved lemon, Calabrian chile—Vai Restaurant, New York
This technique transforms citrus by heating up the natural sugars and releasing caramel notes. It also looks stunning. At San Francisco’s Commonwealth, Jason Fox blackens peel in a 500-degree oven and grates it with sugar for a garnish on salads. At Townsman in Boston, Matt Jennings serves a grilled sirloin with a charred orange and fennel salad.
- Saffron risotto arancini with blue crab and charred citrus aïoli over a piquillo pepper purée—51fifteen Cuisine & Cocktails, Houston
- Skate wing cured in salted brown butter solids and topped with charred pomelo cells—Blackbird, Chicago
The pickling trend shows no signs of abating—and we’ve moved well beyond cucumber into watermelon rind, okra and even citrus fruits. At Nightbell and Cúrate in Asheville, N.C., Katie Button makes a sweet pickle by adding white vinegar to citrus wedges soaked in sweet syrup.
- Ledlow Chicken Schnitzel with spinach, pickled Meyer lemon—Ledlow, Los Angeles
- Butter Mochi Cake with dulce de leche, pickled cara cara oranges, candied orange peel and mint—A-Frame, Los Angeles