Rediscovering the citron

July 19th, 2018

Three years ago our exotic grower, Anton Roux, planted two very rare trees in the Babylonstoren garden: Etrog citrons. A now lesser-known variety of citrus, the citron was once a kitchen staple with cultural and religious significance and medicinal properties. This winter season, we were delighted when one of the trees came into its own and produced its first two fruits. Sadly, only one survived – the other was plucked by a curious visitor to the garden.

So what is a citron fruit?

Not to be confused with either lemons or oranges, this plump round or lemon-shaped fruit is yellow-orange in colour and smooth, with deep ridges emanating from the stem. The peel is thick and pithy; the flesh segmented and small. The leaves and flowers produce a wonderful lemon scent, and the flavour is sharp and acidic with a slight bitterness. It’s not often eaten in its raw state and is best used in marmalade preserves, blended into juices or to complement savoury dishes. The thick peel is cured in brine, or candied and eaten as a confection.

The cultural significance of the citron fruit

The citron is an ancient fruit that was first introduced to the Mediterranean in the Third Century BC by the Persians. However, its origins can be traced back to Asia. Traditionally, during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, a fresh and unmarked citron stands as a characteristic symbol of the 40-year Jewish desert resistance. It is also recognised as an emblem of the Sukkoth feast, where God is given thanks for fertility and plant growth. Apart from its role in the kitchen, the citron is used medicinally to treat a range of ailments, from seasickness and scurvy to pulmonary troubles and rheumatism.

The citron makes a wonderful addition to a citrus orchard but also flourishes in a container on the stoep. For more information about how to grow and care for your own citron tree, refer to the detailed guide on the Candide app.


  1. Liezl says:

    Do you have citron plants that one can buy? i would love to own one.

  2. di says:

    Hi, Thanks for closing the circle! I listened to a talk on radio dedicated to ‘making marmalade. The ultimate fruit was deemed the ‘citron’, which according to the guest on the chat show, was not available in South Africa..!
    I’m off to BT to buy my jar this weekend… baie dankie!

  3. Tina says:

    Well done !!

  4. Excellent article! These are occasionally seen in gardens here in Los Angeles, where the climate is Mediterranean type.

    I’m always looking for food news for the “Food” page of Check it out!

  5. Steve says:

    Where can one buy a citron tree? Are they available at BS?

    • Babylonstoren says:

      Dear Steve, no we don’t sell it. Tulbagh Bosbou nursery is your best bet.

      • Chris says:

        Due to a World Wide shortage of ETROG ( selling at US$ 500.00 — even President Trump is moaning ) perhaps this is the route and reason for your missing fruit ?

  6. Emily says:

    What a marvellous man Mr. Roux is to have re-introduced this useful fruit! My grandmother had a large cirton tree in her orchard in Bulawayo, which she grew from a seed collected in Stellenbosch. Sadly I was not wise enough to keep the seed for my own garden. It made wonderful conserve,and was excellent in a Three-Fruit Marmalade.

  7. Helene says:

    Years ago I made citron preserve every winter. A friend who had a farm in Swellendam had an orchard which he willed to his manager. Being an ignorant man, the manager destroyed the citron trees so no more citrons for me. In America they use them for fruit cakes in preference to our ordinary and
    usual peel. I’ve been craving those golden preserves. So happy to learn about the come back of the fabulous citron.

  8. Jocelyn says:

    Fascinating article especially it connects us to this ancient fruit. I think you have started a new food fashion! However let us all know where these plants could be purchased if you find any info

  9. Hermi says:

    Hi Liesel und Ernst,

    want to see you soon, will you be there?


  10. noreen says:

    A wonderful interesting post! This explains why citron was always listed in fruit cakes very old recipe books!

  11. Margot says:

    I live in Riebeek West in an old Smuts house. I have an old tree and am sure the fruits are Citroen’s. The most delicious thick skinned juicy ‘lemons’.
    Everyone in the neighborhood picks from this generous tree!

  12. Willene says:

    Is citron the same thing as the citrus fruit I know as “kinderkoppie”?

  13. Chris says:

    There is a very strong religious side to this particular fruit

    In order for a citron to be kosher, it must be neither grafted nor hybridized with any other species. Only a few traditional varieties are therefore used. To ensure that no grafting is used, the plantations are kept under strict rabbinical supervision.

    At this price I wonder where this specialized fruit is sourced for adherent Jewish people in SA ?

    It may well be a very lucrative sideline crop to grow in SA ( should one follow all the different religious strictures )

    • Elsa says:

      Hi Chris. Thank you so much for your interesting commentary regarding the citron! We love our citron and Oom Anton certainly keeps a watchful eye over them. Regarding the etrog, we are always open and willing to bring many varieties to the garden – so thanks for the tip!

  14. Chris says:

    Here you go – this might get you going

    Mr Anton Roux — watch those seeds — they might be worth a fortune …… ( literally )

Leave a Response