If you want to understand the taste and smell of today’s diverse citrus-flavored or citrus-scented products, then you should go to the source: the fruits on the trees in gardens and on plantations, and to the farmers who grow them.

While citrus production has become largely industrialized, especially in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and China, it still involves thousands of small farmers along the value chain in all parts of the world. Directly and indirectly, millions of people want and need to make a living out of citrus. We can ensure they get their fair share through our commitment to sustainable sourcing.

The History of Citrus

Citrus is an ancient fruit, however, its exact origin was not discovered until 2018. One study found that 8 million-year-old fossilized leaves from China’s Yunnan province belong to the citrus family1.

These are the earliest traces of this now ubiquitous fruit. This spectacular find proves the existence of a common citrus ancestor. In 1178 B.C., Chü Lu (Monograph on the Oranges of Wên-chou, Chekiang) by Han Yen-chih, was not just the first monograph on the orange but also identified 27 citrus varieties in Wenzhou, Zhejiang (China2). Other subtropical and tropical regions of Asia are also known as early adopters of citrus. Here, it was cultivated before spreading slowly along the Silk Road through the Arab World to Europe and later by seafarers to the colonies of the New World. Just like times gone by, when citrus was regarded as more decorative than nutritious, citrus is now grown for its beautiful appearance, fresh scent, and unique taste, as well as its processing use.

[Sources: 1www.nature.com/articles/nature25447


Ancestral citrus cultivars are the "parents" of almost all citrus varieties found today


Major citrus fruits in Japan


Orange varieties around the world

Global Top Sellers and Local Heroes

Citrus has grown into thousands of local varieties over the years, yet only a handful have made it to the international market. The orange (Citrus sinensis) has become the world’s most relevant citrus fruit, sought after both for its juice and aromatic peel oils. Lemon (Citrus limon); lime (Citrus aurantifolia and Citrus latifolia); grapefruit (Citrus paradisi); mandarin (Citrus reticulata); and tangerine (Citrus tangerina) complete the group of global top sellers.

However, our list of the finest citrus fruits would not be complete without the “local heroes.” Italy’s bergamot; Japan’s yuzu; Southeast Asia’s calamansi; Spain’s bitter orange; China’s pomelo and kumquat; India’s kaffir lime; plus countless, interesting variants that bring new twists to the familiar taste of citrus.

Special: Yuzu
Yuzu is a Japanese fruit often used in cooking. Its bitter, aromatic sweet and sour taste has just a little juice, so the peel is primarily used to accentuate all kinds of food, from sauces to noodles or hot pot dishes. It also complements cosmetics.

Special: Buddha’s Hand (fingered citron)
This naturally grown variety of a regular citron is a rare specialty among all citrus fruits. Its name comes from its finger-like sections. Originating from northeastern India or China, this citrus has neither juice nor pulp but an intense fresh lemon scent and zest that is used in many recipes, drinks, and perfumes. In Sicily, it is cut into strips and served as a carpaccio. In China and Japan, it symbolizes happiness and longevity, making it a popular New Year’s Day gift as it is believed to bring good fortune.

Our Global Citrus Sourcing

Orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and mandarin make up 98% of all globally processed citrus fruits. Among the most important processing countries are Brazil; Argentina; South Africa; Mexico; China; the U.S.; Egypt; Morocco; Turkey; and Israel, plus others in Europe.

The taste and smell of citrus are best experienced at its source: in the orchards where farmers work year-round to cultivate their crops. Yet growing citrus is all but easy. Freshly planted trees require 5 to 8 years before producing an optimal harvest, meaning the return on investment is not immediate.

Although citrus sourcing has become industrialized in many nations, its value chain still involves hundreds of thousands of farmers across the globe. We are helping them plan for their future through sustainable partnerships.

Farmers rely on citrus for a living with a supply chain that directly and indirectly impacts millions of people. That’s why we’re committed to sustainable sourcing partnerships.Mark Birch, Sustainability Director — Business Partnerships. Taste, Nutrition & Health

Symrise has developed a system for sustainable raw material procurement that ensures a consistent supply of materials with high quality. It also encourages farmers to manufacture their products in a way that is both environmentally conscious and socially responsible over time. To realize these objectives, Symrise relies on best agricultural practices; social and educational projects; collaborations with local scientists; and long-term partnerships with non-governmental organizations dedicated to protecting people and the environment3.

Citrus Greening Disease

Citrus agriculture has always had challenges. The fruits’ fragile composition makes it vulnerable to all sorts of pests, fungi, mold, and disease, plus climate obstacles like droughts, storms, floods, hail, or frost.

However, one element threatens global citrus growers like nothing else: citrus greening disease, also known as HLB (huánglóngbìng in Mandarin Chinese, literally “yellow dragon disease”). The first variation was reported in China in the 1920s and has since destroyed many orchards around the world. Such outbreaks have prevented many farmers from producing the quality citrus they take pride in.

Citrus greening disease affects almost all citrus fruits, yet some varieties suffer more than others. Lemon and lime trees are under similar strain to provide fruit nutrients, even though their sour and slightly bitter tastes lessen the negative sensory effects. Grapefruits and oranges can be the worst hit. These citrus fruits cannot develop their usual sweetness levels if unable to ripen. They remain bitter, astringent, and nearly impossible to sell.

The GMO Conundrum
Genetically modified organism (GMO) backlashes have occurred throughout the agricultural sector. Several studies linking genetically modified food to health risks have made consumer rejection commonplace. Yet amid a citrus greening crisis, GMO-based citrus trees—which are resistant to the bacteria—are being developed. Further, we have recently seen national authorities in the Americas approve the use of antibiotics to treat plantations against the citrus greening bacteria. Such a measure does not eradicate the disease but may lead to an antibiotic resistance that could harm the environment and public health.

The Future of Citrus

Sustainability is a broad concept that impacts every decision at Symrise.

In the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), sustainability involves best agricultural practices to protect natural resources; ethical practices to protect the people who are directly or indirectly involved in the value chain, and economic factors to ensure the sector’s long-term profitability.

However, this is not enough to secure the future of citrus agriculture without this key aspect: citrus growing and processing must remain financially attractive to those who choose to make a living out of it. Once a reliable income source for agricultural workers, major issues, such as the spread of citrus greening, have slashed harvest volumes and made the industry less profitable. The current climate makes protecting people across the value chain important. Farmers and plantation workers need to make enough money to live and inspire the next generation to continue in their footsteps.

Three main challenges face the citrus industry:

  1. Global decline in the demand for orange juice
  2. Environmental factors
  3. Diseases, like citrus greening

Citrus plantations have tried to charge a premium on peel oils and essences to manage the loss of revenue from the declining juice industry. This has proven unsuccessful. Purchasers of peel oils and essences are already under pressure as their customers and consumers are unwilling and unable to pay more. At Symrise, we have developed natural alternatives to help us balance the benefit-cost ratio. Botanicals, like lemongrass, are already extracted to generate citrus-like building blocks for flavor and fragrance creation. These, however, will never fully replace original citrus raw materials.

The industry is still catered to juice. However, declining consumer demand for FCOJ and NFC in the Western world is causing a shortage of both peel oil and the essence by-products of juice production. The supply of peel oils and essences poses a challenge over the longer term given increased F&F demand for these materials if juice consumption does not increase at the same rate.Damian Bellusci, Global Citrus Platform Director, Food & Beverage
At Symrise, it's our ambition to get more value out of the citrus and the fruit orchards. This is why we need to work closely with local citrus processors and stakeholders along the extended value chain. Only together can we make citrus truly future-proof for upcoming generations.Damian Bellusci, Global Citrus Platform Director, Food & Beverage

Creating Shared Value

For most farmers, their product’s story ends when they sell it and hand it over to pack houses, traders or processors. The extraction of juice and peel oils, their refinement, and blending with other ingredients for food, drinks, perfumes, or household cleaners—few farmers ever had an insight into these additional stages of the value chain. They may not even want to, as there is this sneaking suspicion that the people who really make money with their crops are not themselves but those that follow in the process. Unfortunately, this is often true—but should not be.

Citrus prices fluctuate based on international supply and demand. Farmers can sell to both processors and the fresh fruit market, where the latter usually pays significantly more. The problem is that the fresh fruit market is volatile. Farmers are unable to rely on it as a form of stable income. When the fresh fruit market booms, processors get the leftovers. As soon as it becomes stagnant, they become the farmers' main source of income as their buying offers are more stable.

    South Africa: Farmers’ Cooperatives Pave the Way to the Future

    Martin Wegener, Managing Director of Klaus Böcker GmbH and Board Member of South African Nkwaleni Processors, wanted to break this cycle by working with a farmers’ cooperative.

    From the Nkwaleni Valley in the traditional Zulu land of South Africa, they are making a real difference by providing farmers in the cooperative with economic stability.

    This has been done by:

    • Allowing members of the farmers’ cooperative to be part of Nkwaleni Processors;
    • Giving farmers a place on the board so that they can help determine the price of the fruit;
    • Ensuring that all fruits are exclusively supplied by co-op members;
    • Providing farmers with a platform to make long-term investments and plan for future generations.
    The story of citrus is the story of people. And it starts with the farmers who are passionate about growing citrus fruits to make a living.Gaelle Dami, Director Global Marketing Communication, Food & Beverage
    The farmers are part of the decision-making process on fruit prices and consequently the generated profits of the processing plant.Martin Wegener, Managing Director of Klaus Böcker GmbH and Board Member of South African Nkwaleni Processors

    Calabria: The Next Generation of Citrus Farmers

    Symrise has partnered with Capua 1880 Srl, a citrus processor in Italy’s southern region of Calabria, as well as agricultural experts from the Mediterranea University of Reggio Calabria and the Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT) to examine the value chain of bergamot.

    We aim to learn more about the risks associated with bergamot cultivation and possible measures to improve sustainability while protecting the environment, biodiversity, and social conditions for farmers. Calabria has unique conditions with three microclimates that affect the growth of bergamot. Proximity to the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas supplies salty air and a variety of winds, while the different plantation locations—at the seaside, on flatlands, and in the mountains—ensure temperature variations.

    Bergamot is synonymous with Calabria, where many small-scale farmers are responsible for its careful cultivation. It provides farmers with the opportunity to earn a living while protecting the region's unique biodiversity.Rik Kutsch Lojenga, UEBT Director

    Capua 1880 is one example. This family-owned company with 80 employees is dedicated to the extraction and processing of essential bergamot oils and all Italian citrus fruits. Capua 1880 supports farmers by paying for fruits weekly and setting multi-year based contracts with all major cooperatives. Farmers benefit from reliable, predictable incomes and structures that enable sustainable cultivation over time so that they can grow or establish themselves.

    Farmers need a reliable income to plan for investments and private needs.Gianfranco Capua, Owner of Italian citrus processor, Capua Srl

    This approach reflects the kind of values Symrise supports. Stephan Räker, Global Competence Director Citrus at Symrise explains: “When we started working with Capua to increase the sustainability of the Calabrian citrus sector, we were really impressed with their high level of expertise and their excellent connections with the local community. They brought in the Bergamot Consortium and the University of Reggio Calabria, who have been close partners with them for a long time. There were so many things they had already done extremely well, and the only thing we could do was bring in our additional expertise on how to achieve international standards to prove the level of sustainability that they had already achieved.” Symrise’s approach is to use the Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) 2.0 questionnaire that was developed by the Sustainable Agricultural Initiative (SAI Platform). It captures three aspects that Symrise wants to support: holistic and long-term ecological, social, and economic thinking.

    With our perfectly matching values, it was “just” a matter of applying our joint knowledge so that the Calabrian citrus industry could go on to become even more sustainable.Mark Birch, Sustainability Director — Business Partnerships. Taste, Nutrition & Health

    Through its activities in Calabria, Symrise has made a key contribution for the company to obtain citrus fruit from a future sustainable source.