Monday, June 11, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Limes and Lemons (Limões)

The extended family of fruits called citrus (or cítrico in Portuguese) is tremendously important to Brazil in all kinds of ways. In the economic sphere their importance to the Brazilian export market in agricultural products is enormous - Brazil is the world's largest exporter of oranges and among the largest in the export of limes. Gastronomically, the sharp acidic tang is absolutely essential to a vast number of Brazilian dishes, which wouldn't be the same at all if another acidic substance, vinegar for instance, was substituted. Citrus juices, particularly fresh-squeezed ones, not only provide acidity to a dish, they add a sparkling fresh quality - a taste of a sun-soaked orchard - that cannot be duplicated. And then again, there's the whole business of cocktails. Brazil's increasingly-popular "national cocktail" the caipirinha relies on chunks of macerated whole limes and their juice to provide the non-alcoholic part of its punch, letting cachaça liquor provide the high-proof part.

Citrus fruits have moved far beyond their origins in Central or Southeast Asia and today are eaten all around the world. They are cultivated practically everywhere the climate allows, which means the world's tropical and sub-tropical reasons. You'll never find an orange grove in Canada or Finland no matter how hard you try, it's just too cold. Fortunately, though, citrus fruits travel well, and today fresh oranges, grapefruits or limes can be found in markets and supermarkets high above the Arctic circle as well as in the word's temperate zones, where most of North America and Europe lie.

Citrus fruits really are a family, and not just in the taxonomic sense. There is the sharp-tongued, lively bachelorette aunt, the lemon. There is the sensible, hard-working and slightly dull breadwinner - the navel orange. There's the mom who's always on weightwatchers, Ruby - she's a grapefruit. And there is the relative who only shows up at Christmas time - the mandarin orange. Each has its own personality and utility, just like in human families.

What's interesting though is that the Brazilian family of citrus fruits is quite different than the North American or European one. Some very common citrus fruits in the USA or Canada, like the grapefruit, are virtually unkown in Brazil. Others, like the exotic beauty Brazilians call  limão-cravo, are unobtainable north of the Equator. Some, of course, are common almost globally, but not all are.

In the next few posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll look at Brazil's just one part of the citrus fruit family, the one that happens to be the most common in Brazilian cooking and gastronomy. Brazilians call them  limão, in English they're limes. We'll discuss which ones are common, which are found only regionally in Brazil, and which ones are just now making their way into the market. The market for citrus is changing rapidly in this country- in our newly globalized world, some citrus fruits that were unknown in Brazil as recently as three or four years ago are popping up with increasing regularity in fruit markets and supermarkets all over Brazil. We'll highlight the standard varieties of Brazilian limes and discuss the new entries - with recipes for all, new and old.


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