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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

The history of citrus in the Sunshine State

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An author and historian walked us through some of the key moments for Florida citrus, including its origins and the development of the citrus concentrate, something created from the onset of the Second World War.

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When people think of Florida, their minds immediately go to some of the State’s most notable trademarks: Beaches, Kennedy Space Center, and, of course, Disney.

But at one time, the Sunshine State was known for something else, something which became synonymous with Florida’s overall image – that one thing was citrus.

Florida was once the leading producer of citrus, outranking states like California as America’s main resource in the cultivation of this product. To find out more about the rich history of Florida citrus, Chandler Balkcom sat down with author, historian, and Professor Emeritus in the USF Florida Studies program, Dr. Gary Mormino.

Dr. Mormino walked us through some of the key moments for Florida citrus, including its origins and the development of the citrus concentrate, something created from the onset of the Second World War.

“During the early 20th Century, there was a great deal of research done on nutrition, and they identified Vitamin C as very significant,” says Dr. Mormino. “So, the government built this billion-dollar facility in Dunedin so Skinner could do research.”

B.C. Skinner went on to conduct experiments around the different uses of citrus, and although he did not create the frozen citrus concentrate, he did lay the foundation for this revolutionary product. In doing so, Skinner discovered a new process to help make the canning of citrus concentrate not only more efficient but more flavorful.

“The key was, under a low temperature,” Dr. Mormino says. “Skinner, at a low temperature, about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, evaporated the juice, and it did not require refrigeration. So much of that juice was shipped to American troops to avoid scurvy.”

Dr. Mormino also gives us some insight into the current state of Florida’s citrus industry, and his predictions on where the industry will be in the future.

“How many of you began the day with a glass of orange juice? And the answer is very few of you. I ask this question every time I teach a class in food in history,” Dr. Mormino says, “and I think maybe twice in the last 20 years a student has raised his or her hand and said yes, I had orange juice.”

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