Citrus fruits came to the Mediterranean is not very clear, although most of the experts agree they originally came from the East. The lemon, a native of Persia, was perhaps brought to Spain by the Romans, according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman writer born in 23 AD. But it was the Arabs who developed citrus cultivation in al-Andalus, from where it was later taken to parts of the Spanish east coast. Citrus fruits were much favored by the Arabs, who used them to prepare sauces; also syrup from candied citron, a lemon-like citrus fruit. And citrus trees were much loved as ornamental plants in the cool gardens that were characteristic of Arab towns.
One of the first historical references to the abundance of citrus species in the area of Valencia is to be found in the travel writings of the German doctor and geographer Hyeronimus Münzer (1437-1508), dating from the late 15th century. Also, chronicler and historian Gaspar Juan Escolano (1560 – 1619) reported that in the early 17th century, Valencian oranges were selling well as fine produce on the markets of Madrid, the capital.
By the mid-19th century, citrus fruits had become a driving force for the Valencian and Spanish economy. This historical period has been studied and the results are on display at the Museo de la Naranja in Burriana in Castellón (Valencian Community). Today, Spain is the world’s sixth largest producer of oranges and one of the world’s main exporters of citrus fruits – oranges, lemons, mandarins and grapefruits.
The tradition and quality of citrus fruits from the region of Valencia have been recognized and protected by the PGI Cítricos Valencianos. This is also the case for the famous PGI Clementinas de las Tierras del Ebro in the province of Tarragona (Catalonia).
Apart from consumption as fruit and in juices, citrus fruits can be used to make sauces for meat and fish, as with duck or sole à l’orange. Lemon is a very common condiment for fish and shellfish and is often used in marinades. Oranges are frequent ingredients in fresh summer salads and are widely used in desserts – mousse, sorbet, ice cream, for marmalade, in patisserie and to flavor drinks.
The majority of Spanish lemons are grown in Murcia and some parts of Alicante and Andalusia, with over 60% being exported. Grapefruits are also grown in Murcia as well as along the tropical coast of Granada, mainly in Málaga (Andalusia).
The Valencia region is expected to have an overall production increase of 8%, however, this increase is mainly due to the orange’s increase of almost 20%. Meanwhile the mandarin will decrease by 2.5%, with significant decreases in the subgroup of early clementines.
According to data from the Citrus Management Committee, Spanish citrus exports have recorded three consecutive records in the last years, largely surpassing the 3.5 million tonnes each year and almost reaching 4 million tonnes last season. In addition, the total exports of the orange surpassed that of the tangerine group, after eight seasons in which the total export of small citrus surpassed the total export of oranges. This was due to the growth in production and export of table oranges – Navel variety – and the late recovery in production and export of Navelinas after the frosts experienced two seasons ago.
Europe remains the largest market for Spanish exports. According to data from Fepex, Spain had exported 1,366,723 tonnes of oranges, 650,160,000 tonnes of tangerines, 362,562 tonnes of limes and 39,350 tonnes of grapefruits. The Valencia region remains the first Spanish citrus exporter with 75% of all Spanish citrus exports.
Germany, France and Poland are the main destinations for Spanish citrus, followed by Italy, which, even though it is also a producing country, imports three times the amount of citrus that Spain exports to Russia and the United States, according to information from Citrus Management Committee.