The very best group of fruit in January has to be citrus: there are wonderful oranges from the Mediterranean, and the late season mandarins, varieties with gravitas, are coming into their own. However, not to be out done in this bleakest time of year, there are some wonderful British and European apples, still in peak condition; avocados from Spain and Israel, and the consolidation of the Southern African grape season, which provides an increasing choice of interesting and tasty varieties.
Apple quality continues to be excellent with a good choice from UK and European growers. Aside from the usual standard range in all stores (Braeburn, Cox, Gala, Jazz, Pink Lady, etc), each retailer’s own selection of newer or more specialised varieties changes slightly as stored fruit stocks allow. M&S (with Envy, Smitten, Egremont Russett, Kissabel) and Waitrose (with Envy, Smitten, Daliclass, Crimson Crisp, Winter Wonder, Opal) have the widest selection, while the other mainstream retailers usually have something interesting in their bigger stores: look out for Kanzi, Junami, Honeycrisp, Cameo, or Cabaret, among others. These are all worth trying.
Apricots are plentiful from South Africa and should be of a decent eating quality, if allowed to ripen.
Hass from Spain and Israel is starting to dominate sales as their season becomes predominant, though stocks of later-season fruit from Columbia, Mexico, Chile, etc, will continue. Fuerte and Pinkerton, green-skin varieties, will become more readily available, also from Spain and Israel (often in Tesco and Waitrose).
South Africa is the source of the large-berried, sweet Driscoll Victoria, while the more traditional types, Tupi and Ark45, are from Mexico and Guatemala – slightly tangy.
Blueberries are entering mid to late season from Peru and Chile, which will start to challenge retailers on quality. Watch-out for softness and don’t keep this fruit longer than 2-3 days in the fridge. More and more fruit will arrive from Morocco in January: the better, fresher choice, particularly as much of the production is of the newer varieties.
Cherries quality should continue to be reliable from Chile and Argentina.
Most stores that sell figs are using Toro Sentado from Peru, which is a good variety and should be satisfactory for eating fresh. Some stores sell Autumn Honey from Israel, which may not have quite the same depth of flavour.
January grapes are generally very good with the new Namibian and South African fruit, and good stocks still available from Peru. Choice of variety becomes more complex:
Red grapes: These are dominated by Crimson and Flame, which are good, crisp, sweet grapes, but lacking in much flavour. Expect to see a plethora of other red varieties on sale as the month progresses, with Sweet Celebration and Jack’s Salute among the best; and Sweet Mayabelle and Candy Snaps offering lovely flavour.
Black grapes: Sweet Favors, Candy Dreams, Sable and Vitoria (from Brazil) are the ‘flavour’ grapes to buy, while the cheaper options will be Midnight Beauty and Melody, the latter being particularly good from South Africa.
Green grapes: The candy floss variety, Cotton Candy will be quite easy to find, and it is well worth finding Sweet Globe and Sugar Crisp as excellent crisp, plump varieties. There will be large volumes of Prime, Early Sweet and Arra 15 available as the standard, slightly underwhelming, offer, with Sugraone and Thompson adding to the choice of similar varieties.
GRAPEFRUIT & POMELO Update:
White Marsh Seedless and Sunrise (aka Star Ruby) from Israel, and the sublime Florida Pink, are the best grapefruit on sale. In many stores, Star Ruby is often from Turkey or Spain and is slightly more bitter than the Israeli equivalent, though equally flavoursome.
Chinese Pomelo is easily available in most larger stores.
All lemons sold in supermarkets are variety Primofiori from Spain.
Lychee from South Africa continues on sale in early January: such a wonderful, luxurious fruit.
For mandarins, January is a story of gradual shift to late season varieties. Clemenules, the mainstay of the Christmas market will lose its acids and therefore its taste definition and will be replaced by Nadorcott and Tangold. These are excellent varieties with a great depth of flavour, though may be a little acidic in their first weeks on sale. The excellent Clemenvilla continues but will soon be replaced as a tangerine by Orri, another wonderful variety. Nour, mainly from Morocco, is another late-season clementine that will be on sale: very tasty.
January mangoes are pretty uninspiring on the UK market, being primarily Brazilian Keitt and Kent which are rarely the tastiest varieties. These will gradually give way to Kent from Peru, which, particularly by March, is actually quite a good example of a much-maligned variety.
Wonderful mangoes are available from Australia which are rarely on sale here: an opportunity for a Brexit trade deal?
January melons are all from Brazil with Ivory Gaya (in Tesco aka Sweet Snowball) and Piel de Sapo being the most interesting.
Of all the year, January and February offer-up the best oranges. These are from Spain, Morocco, Egypt and Sicily and are mainly Navel oranges of the later season variants (Navelate, Washington Navel, Powell, etc). They are seedless, sweet, juicy and luscious and are not to be missed. The early Navelina variant will be finishing as its acids drop in early January.
Not only are the Navels wonderful at this time of year, but blood oranges from Sicily, particularly Tarocco, are even more alluring with a fleshy, juicy softness that is unmatched. Other blood oranges such as Moro and Sanguinelli will also be on sale, but don’t quite match the excellence of Tarocco.
Salustiana is another variety worth noting as a great orange for juicing. Be a bit careful in supermarkets where they don’t distinguish the various varieties with packaging: always look for the variety name on the label.
From Spain, it is Seville orange season (often sold in Morrisons and Waitrose), so get the preserving pan out for the best marmalade available: a simple and satisfying task.
PEACH & NECTARINE Update:
All peaches and nectarines are from South Africa. Eating quality can be excellent, but the cheaper fruit is often disappointing: ripe and ready to eat options are more reliable.
The choice of pears in January, all from UK and Europe, starts to reduce in many stores. The choice is often no more than Rocha and Conference, which can both be lovely, but the latter is often quite bland. Comice (and Sweet Sensation, the blushed version) are probably the most flavoursome pears on sale but will start to disappear towards February. Otherwise, Waitrose and M&S usually have some alternative varieties, and Asda and Lidl will continue with Italy’s favourite pear, Abaté Fétèl.
Spanish persimmon, Rojo Brilliante, continues to be available in all stores: sweet and tasty. Watch out for the skin colour though, as this is stored fruit and some with pale orange, even yellow, skins can be sneaked in to the packs: these will not be good to eat and will not ripen, so only buy the deeper orange samples.
January is good for South African plums, as the early varieties are gone to be replaced with mid-season fruit and some improved varieties: Ruby Sun is a good example.
Cheap plums in punnets are the least reliable and will need to be left in your fruit bowl to soften before they have any chance of satisfying. As with peaches and nectarines, the ripe and ready packs are more reliable and will have the better varieties inside.
Good quality raspberries are on sale in all stores from South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Portugal and Spain.
The main varieties of satsumas are all finished by January. However, small volumes of late varieties such as Bela Bela are available here and there (e.g. M&S). These are very satisfying as they have a good depth of flavour. Later in January, a variety called Queen will start to arrive from Spain (often in Morrisons and Waitrose). This is a lovely fruit, easy to peel and sweet, though quite unlike a standard satsuma.
Crunchy strawberries from Egypt, Morocco and Jordan are the choice in January: not exciting as a choice for fresh eating.
©Good Fruit Guide 2021. Recommendations on fruit varieties and types with the very best taste are personal to the editor of Good Fruit Guide, and do not attempt to be exhaustive or supported by verifiable consumer research. The highlighting of fruit with the very best taste in the opinion of the editor is not intended as a judgement on the taste of varieties and types of fruit not mentioned.