Last February, I was trawling the fruit bins of my Whole Foods when a Whole Foods employee tempted me with the ugliest orange I’d ever seen. It was bulbous, misshapen and fat. The little sticker labeling it a sumo orange struggled to cling to its deeply dimpled skin. In spite of the sumo’s look, I bought one, just to be polite to the Whole Foods guy. After all, he’d said, “Trust me. These are the greatest oranges I’ve ever had.”
After dinner that night, I brought out the ugly sumo, and our family love affair began. Sumo oranges have the sweetness of a clementine in large, juicy, meaty sections. They’re easy to peel thanks to thick skin and a quirky knob at the top of the orange that you can tear off without having to get any orange peel under your nails. And they are seedless. We fought over the last pieces of that first ugly orange, and I returned to Whole Foods the next morning to buy a dozen more.
The Sumos were gone all too soon from the Whole Foods bins. I took to the web to find more and learned that they have a short season. 2012 was their coming out season in the US, but they would be back in 2013. I stalked them this year, going to the Sumo Citrus website to track ship dates, ready to pounce as soon as they hit Chicago. They’re here now, and all over the country, but they won’t last more than a few weeks. Hunt the Sumo. Don’t wait. This isn’t an orange, it’s a revelation.
The Sumo Citrus website will tell you that these are really an orange and mandarin hybrid, crafted in Japan for the last 40 years. In Asia, they are marketed as Dekopon in Japan and Hallabon in Korea, and can be sold for $8 each in gift shops. Here in the US, the Sumos are grown in California’s Central Valley.
Sumo season will be gone all too soon, but for now, we’re in the thick of it, buying them by the dozen every few days, gorging ourselves on this decadently sweet orange hybrid. Are you still sticking around reading this? You should already be on your way to getting your own sumo. Right now, someone could be snagging up the last one.
Just to be clear – I haven’t received any sumos for free in the mail. Don’t have any sumo t-shirts in the closet. I am just raving about these ridiculously good ugly oranges that have brought the sunshine back into our gray Chicago winter. Let February now be known as SUMO month.