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What is this Sumo Citrus orange from Japan – and is it any good?

The dekopon now has a cult following in the US, but it’s been one of Japan’s favourite fruits for decades

Kaila Imada
Written by
Kaila Imada

Japan is known for its immaculate fruit, but a single strawberry or even an individual grape can cost you a pretty penny. Fruit-farming in Japan remains a labour-intensive process, hence the high prices. However, there are now a number of native Japanese fruit varieties being grown overseas and they're turning heads. 

Yuzu is the darling of chefs and bartenders everywhere, but the latest fruit to make a splash outside Japan is the memorably named Sumo Citrus orange in North America. In Japan, it’s called a dekopon or shiranui – the fruit is characterised by its bumpy exterior and features a little knob on the top, reminiscent of a traditional sumo wrestler hairstyle.

Photo: Shizuku/Photo AC

The orange was first developed in Japan back in the 70s and is actually a hybrid between the kiyomi and ponkan citrus. It’s sweet and, like its cousin the mikan, only grows between December and February, during Japan's winter. If you’ve never had one, imagine a giant, extra sweet mandarin-orange hybrid that peels easily. It’s very fragrant and the citrus generally comes seedless.

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Recently, the fruit has picked up steam abroad, particularly in North America, where the Sumo Citrus brand has been deploying Instagram influencers, celebrity fans and smart marketing campaigns to attract attention. Once a rare sight, the dekopon is now a common fruit on supermarket shelves in the United States and even Australia. Locally grown Sumo Citruses in California go way beyond wintertime, being harvested between January and April.

So is the dekopon worth the hype? In our opinion, yes. We’re big fans of the easy peeling, portable, sweet juicy fruit – and we’re far from alone. Considered one of Japan’s winter citrus treats, the dekopon is incorporated into seasonal menus and used in gorgeous desserts at some of Japan’s top patisseries. You’ll also find it in jams and jellies, so you can enjoy the fruit even outside its short season. 

Sadly, dekopon season is almost over for us in Tokyo, but if you’re lucky enough to find a Sumo Citrus at your local grocery store, grab a couple, eat them slowly and dream of Japan. 

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