Sumo Citrus season is closer every day. This year is a big one for us: It marks the 13th season that we’ve been commercially available in the US – with a fan base that grows and becomes more loyal each year. In honor of this milestone, we’re sharing 13 fun facts and historical trivia about your favorite fruit. How many of these did you know already?
Congrats, Sumo Citrus! You’re officially a teenager.
1. Lucky number 13!
Sumo Citrus seedlings were first imported into the US in 1998. That’s a lot more than 13 years ago. It’s not a rounding error. It’s because Sumo Citrus is one of the most challenging varieties to grow. It took another 13 years for our growers to perfect the process and make them available to the public.
2. Year-round work for a short season
Only expert citrus growers are able to cultivate the notoriously difficult to grow Sumo Citrus from a seed to a fruit-bearing tree. Our passionate farmers have perfected the cultivation of Sumo Citrus – while maintaining the highest growing standards possible. (We don’t let just anyone grow this fruit!) They tend the trees year round, though the season to enjoy only lasts from January through April.
3. 30 years of research…
Long before our growers could establish their farms in California, a team of Japanese researchers began a quest to grow the world’s biggest, sweetest citrus (that was also easy to peel). Back in the 1970s, the Japanese agriculture department developed a unique hybrid of Satsuma, Orange and Mandarin varieties. Their shiranui citrus was born a legend – but it was too finicky.
4. Researchers quit once!
After 15 years of trial and error, the research group said sayonara to the project. The shiranui nearly faded into obscurity forever. But one tenacious researcher worked tirelessly to bring the sweet, seedless, and elusive fruit to people around the globe. He named it dekopon (more on that story later!)
5. From Japan to California
Word spread fast among citrus growers, and an American farmer visiting Japan wanted to try growing this fruit at home. He brought home some seeds – and spent years perfecting the process on this side of the Pacific.
6. A name that honors its heritage
That California farmer dubbed his dekopon Sumo Citrus, as an homage to its Japanese roots. Today, Sumo Citrus is only grown in the San Joaquin Valley of California and with partner growers in Australia.
7. The world’s most pampered fruit
Self-care is not optional for Sumo Citrus. These divas need pampering all year round. Every single tree gets hand-pruned for more sunlight. They’re ripened on the tree (not shipped green like other fruit). Each one is picked by hand – not by machines. They’re harvested in small totes instead of big bins, then floated into the line to prevent bruising. No rolling or tossing for Sumo Citrus. Finally, each one is hand-packed into a crate.
8. The citrus that gets name-checked
It’s the only citrus fruit that gets called out by name on national TV (and by celebs). Hoda Kotb gushed about her favorite fruit twice on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna. Another famous Jenna – Fischer, of The Office fame! – has even scored her own Sumo Citrus tree. And, yes, it’s bearing fruit! THE Eva Chen is another A-list Super-Fan. She delivered cases of Sumo Citrus to the Instagram offices.
9. Dekopon means “uneven.”
That bumpy skin and top knot are trademarks of the Sumo Citrus and they are responsible for the fruit’s original name, too. Deko means “uneven” in Japanese.
10. Naturally seedless *and* non-GMO
They’re seedless! How? That’s all the work of Mother Nature. Sumo Citrus is a non-GMO fruit verified by the non-GMO Project. A seedless Sumo Citrus was produced by hand-crossing the Kiyomi Tangor with the Ponkan Mandarin. The pollen from Ponkan was gently brushed into the flowers of the Kiyomi. The seeds produced from this hand pollination in 1972 resulted in the Shiranuhi, which was carefully imported to California in 1998. The first orchards were planted by our friendly farmers in 2008.
11. Warning: May cause inspiration.
Sure, fruit is a frequent subject of still life paintings. But only Sumo Citrus serves as a muse year after year. From the wacky and weird to the breathtakingly beautiful, this perfect fruit is truly inspirational. Catch up on fan art from years past here, here and here.
12. Stalking is encouraged.
Overdoing it on Sumo Citrus and stocking up on the fruit by the caseload is a rite of passage for Super Fans. In the early years, supplies were more limited than they are now, so savvy shoppers had to go from store to store to find their favorite fruit. Nowadays, not only are Sumo Citrus more plentiful – what a time to be alive! – but we’ve made it easier to find. Stalk away, with our store finder (that is live in-season from January to April).
13. A manga-inspired tale
Back in 2021, we partnered with Hypebeast to present the origin story of the legendary fruit in an illustrative manga comic. Dive deeper into the Sumo Citrus history, with this comic by artist Chris Metzner. Read it here.