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The Sumo Orange Edition
On supply chains, citrus, and memory
Colin here. A year ago seems like a lifetime ago, back when we thought this all would be over in a few months, and had yet to grasp the scope, scale and intensity of a global pandemic that would write itself into history. My memory of that time was the first glimpses of Spring, like what is being felt today in New York. And despite the memories from the beginning of COVID, a strange little bright spot was discovering the Sumo orange. For some reason, this beautiful fruit had evaded my radar until a year ago, and my enjoyment of it will be forever intertwined with the onset of the pandemic. They only exist seasonally, for a fleeting moment, and it was a little treat that I looked forward to picking up at Whole Foods and handily devouring. I’m generally pro-fruit and find delight in lots of things from the produce aisle, but this is something special.
According to Delish:
Put simply, these are seedless, easy-to-peel mandarin oranges that only began shipping to the United States, Canada, and Australia within this past decade. According to the company that produces them in the U.S., the fruit was originally developed by "a farmer in Japan where it is known as a dekopon—a cross between a Kiyomi (a cross between a tangor, satsuma, and Trovita orange) and a Ponkan (a mandarin and a pomelo)." Back in 2012, the New York Times reported it took about 30 years to properly develop the fruit. It remains a revered food in Japan where it's oftentimes given as a gift.
There’s a few things that are appealing. They don’t have the fight of a regular orange when it comes to peeling off the skin. There’s a large belly button styled bump on the exterior of the fruit for easy identification on supermarket aisles, and the taste is consistently sweet, with more citrus-y notes than I notice in other oranges. There’s a pleasant zest and a bit of subtle bitterness to them, as well. Less appealing is the price per Sumo (sometimes a whopping 5 dollars per pound), but tasty seasonal delicacies are worth ponying up for!
Why is this interesting?
As food consumers, we are now conditioned to be able to get mostly what we want, when we want it. If I want fish straight from Japan in Austin, Texas, I can get it. If I want a tropical fruit more often seen in Singapore, in New York in February, chances are I can get it.
The global supply chain serves up delicacies from around the world as we want them. But the Sumo orange only has a small, fragile window that they are available—from January through April. That to me, is the interesting part. It’s like the cherry blossoms in Japan and DC. These things teach us to enjoy the moment while it lasts, because it comes and goes every year. No matter how much I want a delicious Sumo in late summer, I can’t have it. And because of the exact timing of its seasonality, the fruit will be forever linked in my mind to the beginning of the pandemic, as a bit of a sensory treat in an otherwise stressful time. Go pick a few up while you still can. (CJN)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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