The Great Citrus Pith Myth


To remove the pith or not? That is the question…


PithThere have been many discussions regarding the pith or white part of citrus and whether it should be separated from the peel and fruit pulp when processing the fruit because of its alleged bitterness.

I have always been taught if you’re planning to use any citrus fruit for marmalade, salads, baking, or just plain eating, you’re going to want to remove the white pith (the white spongy layer between the fruit and the peel) because it has a very bitter taste.

Quick development of bitterness seems to be affected by the place where the oranges were grown, the season of the year, the ripeness, or perhaps some other condition. Whatever the cause, there is no way to determine beforehand whether a certain batch of citrus will yield a dehydrated product which will or will not turn bitter quickly.

Similar products differing only by including the peel, when similarly reconstituted, impart a burning sensation to the lips and mouth in addition to acquiring the bitter taste. And because different people also taste bitterness at different rates, the only way to know for sure is to taste the pith yourself to decide if it is palatable to you.

Lately I have wondered if the extra step of separating the pith is really necessary. Although it’s quite easy to remove, it IS another step in the process. Additionally, you lose a lot of nutrition that is contained within the white part of citrus fruit. Since I use all my peels for powdering, and this is the citrus season, I decided to conduct my own test.

I bought 2 different varieties each of oranges, grapefruit, and lemons. (I already knew that limes have such thin skins that the pith theory did not really apply to me, but I tasted them also.) I separated the fruit pulp from its skin, put it aside for dehydration, and then concentrated on the skins of the citrus fruits. Using a grapefruit spoon, I separated the peel from the pith of each variety of citrus I bought. What I discovered pleasantly surprised me.

Conclusions:

In this batch of citrus fruit I found:

  • The Grapefruit pith was very bitter and sharp on my tongue. I will remove the pith from the fruit and peel.
  • The Orange pith was pretty much tasteless in both varieties. I will leave the pith.
  • The Lemon’ pith was slightly bitter, but not really anything that I felt would make me throw it away. This too, I will process with the peel.
  • Limes were left whole because of the super thin skin and pith which did not seem bitter to me when I tasted them. I will dry the peel as it is.

Bottom Line? Taste the pith (white part) of your citrus fruit BEFORE you go through all the trouble of peeling it off. You may just find that you don’t need to! In addition, I feel that dehydrating at lower temperatures not only helps retain color, but it helps with the flavor also. Here is my experiment with lemons.


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