While it isn’t really the ugliest fruit in the world, the ugli fruit does have a rather lackluster appearance, with thick, yellow-green skin so loose and leathery that it practically rolls out when you begin pulling it off. But don’t let its unassuming exterior fool you, because this mottled green citrus is truly delectable.
A tangelo variant, the ugli fruit’s taste is reminiscent of other citrus fruits, because it is, in a way, being a cross between other citrus offerings. Analysts note that its size rivals that of a grapefruit, with a milder, much sweeter taste, fibrous sections inside and a slight protrusion at the base that looks like an “outie” navel. Not only does it have its own distinct characteristics, ugli fruit also has an interesting lineage. Ask growers what an “ugli” is, however, and you might get a slightly different list of basic cultivars.
The first recorded experiments on tangelos were in Florida in 1897 and California in 1898. Purdue University’s Horticulture & Landscape Architecture’s website describes it as a “deliberate or accidental hybrid of any mandarin orange and the grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) or pummelo (Citrus maxima).” Merriam-Webster.com calls it a cross between a grapefruit and either a tangerine or mandarin orange, the latter two both having the botanical C. reticulate designation.
The ugli fruit, however, was purportedly discovered in a Jamaican pasture in 1917 by an estate owner named G. G. R. Sharp. His subsequent pollination forays involved repeated grafts onto sour orange, each time regrafting the resulting fruit with the fewest seeds. Sharp exported his uglis to England and Canada in the 1930s, then to New York City in 1942. Although nearly all the related seedlings being studied at the University of California were destroyed when the campus was expanded in 1951, four seedlings were saved for posterity.
Ugli fruit is so exclusive in the citrus community that it’s earned its own class designation. Now believed to be a natural cross between a mandarin orange and a grapefruit, it has a number of step-siblings, such as the Seminole, Nova, and Orlando. The “Minneola” tangelo variety is a Bowen grapefruit and Dancy tangerine cross, while the “Nova” is a Clementine tangerine and “Orlando” tangelo hybrid.
Today, you can find ugli fruit and other tangelo varieties in most major supermarkets between April and November, and they’re growing in popularity. Yuma County, Arizona, harvested more than 2,500 acres of Minneola tangelos in 2005, with a projected value of around $3.2 million.
Health Benefits of Ugli Fruit
With only 45 calories per serving (half of one fruit), uglis provide a whopping 70 percent of the recommended daily value in vitamin C, which is great for boosting your disease immunity, fighting infections, and important for the formation of collagen and maintaining artery elasticity. Calcium, of course, is in good supply, as well as vitamin A, and eight percent of your needed fiber per day. Ugli fruit is naturally fat- and cholesterol-free and has a low glycemic index.
Research shows that the skin of tangelos, or flavedo – what cooks call “zest” – as well as the white “pithy” part right under it, called albedo, have nearly as many nutritional attributes as the fruit sections themselves, which scientists call “carpel.”
For some time, scientists have been interested in the possible role citrus fruits like ugli fruits have in fighting cancer and heart disease. More recently a potential was discovered in them that could be beneficial for such brain functions as learning and memory retention. Another advantage of ugli fruit juice is that it contains citric acid, which may prevent kidney stones.
“The Health Benefits of Citrus Fruits,”1 a comprehensive report undertaken by Dr. Katrine Baghurst of Horticultural Australia Ltd, revealed that tangelos, including ugli fruit, contain numerous, highly beneficial micronutrient compounds. More than 4,000 polyphenols and 60 flavonoids were identified, including catechins (flavanols), anthocyanins, flavones, and flavonols.
What do these do for the body? Numerous studies have shown that these substances offer a wide range of positive effects, including anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-allergic, antioxidant and anticarcinogenic benefits. The polyphenol and flavonoid compounds may help protect against viral infections, allergies, and fungal conditions. Further, citrus skin peel also contains coumarins, phytochemicals shown to protect against tumorous cancers.
Humans have an intestinal enzyme with the ability to destroy the effectiveness of some medications by slowing the amount that enters the bloodstream. Furanocoumarins, a toxic compound in some plants in the Apiaceae family (such as celery and parsley) and Rutacea (which includes citrus)2 inhibits this enzyme, so more of the medication can enter the bloodstream. Depending on what types of medications are being taken, some doctors instruct their patients not to eat grapefruit because it has high concentrations of furanocoumarins; other patients increase their grapefruit intake to get more of the drug into their system.3 Ugli fruit, however, has been found not to contain furanocoumarins.4
Ugli Fruit Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1/2 fruit (122 grams)
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies Done on Ugli Fruit
Nutritional characteristics were examined in the juice of a mandarin orange tangelo variety (Citrus reticulate) and grapefruits (Citrus paradisi) grown in Southern Italy. Eleven antioxidant free radical scavenging and iron-reducing (FRAP) compounds and flavonoids were identified, including lucenin-2 and vicenin-2.5
Tests also found natural antioxidants in citrus fruits grown in Mauritius (an island east of Madagascar), including tangelos, thought to have therapeutic potential for diabetic patients. Using an oxidative stress model that imitated diabetes, the effects of antioxidative flavedo, albedo and several citrus pulp extracts of (1) tangor Elendale (Citrus reticulata - Citrus sinensis (orange) and (2) tangelo Minneola (C. reticulata × Citrus paradisis) on human adipocytes (fat cells), scientists found “significantly reduced” carbonyl (smoke-induced carcinogens) accumulation and slowed free-radical-induced hemolysis (red blood cell disintegration) of human erythrocytes (red blood cells) in response to advanced glycation end products generated by albumin (blood protein needed to maintain tissue health). Conclusion: “Mauritian citrus fruit extracts represent an important source of antioxidants, with a novel antioxidative role at the adipose tissue level.”6
Healthy Ugli Fruit Recipe:
Yogurt with Ugli Fruit & Muesli
|16 oz. plain yogurt
||2 ugli fruits
|8 oz. dry oatmeal
||1 oz. dried apricots, chopped
||1 oz. sultanas
||1 oz. dried apple slices
|1 oz. rye bran
||1/2 oz. flaked almonds
- Mix all the ingredients together.
- Peel the ugli fruit and remove the pith. Place fruit segments into a bowl separate from the juice.
- Divide the yogurt into four bowls, stir in the ugli fruit juice, place the ugli fruit segments on top and sprinkle 3 Tbsp. of muesli on each.
Ugli Fruit Fun Facts
The California Avocado Association published a nutrition study in May of 1922, introducing new varieties of citrus fruits and deeming the tangelo to be not an ugly fruit, but an “attractive” one. However, when a fruit importer requested “more of that ugly fruit,” a clever campaign capitalized on the fruit’s appearance by changing the last letter to an “i” to foster more interest in the marketplace.
There’s a reason why ugli fruit was given its name, but the main one was a ploy to stimulate interest in the marketplace. A “deliberate or accidental hybrid” with such cultivar as grapefruit, pummelo, mandarin orange, and tangerine, ugli fruit is a unique tangelo variety discovered in a pasture in Jamaica in 1917, with such distinct characteristics that it has its own botanical designation, Citrus x tangelo. While admittedly the ugli fruit is large, bumpy, and an odd yellow-green, it’s delicious and full of beneficial nutrients: 70 of the daily recommendation of vitamin C, plus plenty of vitamin A, calcium, and fiber, with anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-allergic, and antioxidant effects. It’s also one of several citrus fruits shown to fight cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, so when you’re deciding whether or not to buy ugli fruit, remember - the benefits are actually pretty attractive.