Buddha’s hand, Kumquat, Yuzu

Europe is a growth market for exotic citrus varieties

Clementines, Navels, lemons - most citrus fruits can hardly be considered as exotics anymore. Limes might still be a bit exotic, but this citrus fruit is almost universally known. There are, however, still quite a few exotic varieties within the citrus category: Kaffir lime, Yuzu en Kumquat, to name but three. Perhaps the most illustrious is the Buddha’s Hand. The Moroccan organic farm, Terra Citrus, is trying to get these exotics onto the European market.

Not far from the historic city of Fez, in Northern Morocco, on the banks of the Sebou River, lies the 82-hectare Terra Citrus plantation. This family business has, since its conception, focused on traditional citrus, especially oranges. This changed when Younes Tazi, a member of this family’s third generation, took over the helm. “My grandfather founded this family business in 1950. My father started his career as a doctor, but inherited a part of the business from my grandfather.” Younes has followed in his father’s footsteps; combining a career as a surgeon with that of a citrus grower. Under his guidance, the crops have been diversified, and more attention is given to exports. Currently, there are four countries on the business’ export list - Spain, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands - but they are looking for more.

Growing market for exotics
Younes divides their assortment into three categories. The first group includes the well-known exotics, like limes. “This is a specialised market, but European consumption is increasing.” On the European market, Moroccan limes compete with limes from Mexico and Brazil. These varieties have a firm grip on the market. Between August and October, there is, however, a gap in the market for Moroccan limes. These limes lag behind in terms of volume when compared to the large volumes coming in from Mexico. But when it comes to quality, Younes sees opportunities. “Our limes have received the highest quality rating from one of our customers, the wholesaler, Rungis, in Paris”, he says proudly. “It is still a high-value niche market. The market is already quite developed, but there are opportunities in the organic market. We expect that market to grow.”

The second category is made up of exotics destined for the fresh market, like Finger limes and Buddha’s Hand. Younes includes Kumquats in this category. This market for citrus is growing, but “the only obstacle is the price”. The market for the Finger lime, also known as citrus caviar, is also starting to pick up. “It is an interesting market. The more creative chefs, in particular, are interested in the citrus caviar and Buddha’s Hand.” This growth is also thanks to the rise in the number of home chefs. This trend began about ten years ago. “Consumers are scouring the internet for sales locations for these fruits.”

Finally, there is a group that is mainly destined for chefs and the industry. The most well-known product in this category is the Yuzu. “Even if you were to sell it for EUR 1, the market for its fresh consumption would be small”, explains Younes. This has to do with the inside of this fruit - full of pips, and with very little juice. What little juice there is, is also “extremely sour”. “Chefs know what to do with this fruit. They use the sublime fresh, sour-smelling peel, reminiscent of grapefruit and mandarin, for unusual culinary creations. They are, therefore, prepared to buy the Yuzu. The industry is also an important buyer.”

Organic citrus: challenging, but necessary
Half of Terra Citrus’ 82-hectare plantation is earmarked for various kinds of exotic citrus varieties. Of the 40 hectares, half is planted with limes. The remainder is planted with exotics such as Yuzu, Kaffir lime, Sudachi, Finger lime, Meyer citrus, Buddha’s Hand, kumquat and a few other kinds. “In 2015, we began with the switch to organic farming”, says Younes. The conversion started with the Yuzu, which will be brought to market as an organic product from August next year. In the meantime, the process has also been started with the other exotic citrus varieties, including the 20 hectares of limes.

Terra Citrus’ manager used to work in an insectarium. He is a specialist in the field of natural disease management. “He knows which insects can be introduced to combat pests and prevent diseases”, says Younes about this member of his team. Organic cultivation of citrus is not simple, but it is important, especially for the exotics. “The peels of most of the exotics are used in dishes in the kitchen. Pesticides are, however, found on the skin of conventional products”, Younes explains. The fact that this is not the case with organic fruits is a plus. Kumquats and Yuzu have the same MRL requirements as clementines and oranges. “That is not good. The skins of these products are not eaten, whereas kumquat and yuzu peels are consumed.” Here, Younes refers to the adjusted regulations that are applicable for cherries, strawberries and other soft fruit varieties. Here, the MRL regulations take the consumption of the fruit’s skin into consideration. “there should actually be special regulations for exotic citrus varieties”, he says, “but this is not realistic as there are so many products.”

More information:
Terra Citrus
Younes Tazi

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