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Chinotto

Citrus aurantium var. myrtifolia, the myrtle-leaved dwarf sour orange

Chinotto
 
 
 

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Product information "Chinotto"

Even if citrus fruits are quickly raved about, another superlative is allowed: the dark sour orange Chinotto, a dwarfed mutation from the bitter orange, is perhaps the most attractive ornamental form of all citrus varieties. The short distance between the internodes leads to extremely compact growth. The variety is also interesting for bonsai plants. The evergreen, tapering, myrtle-like leaves (therefore ‘myrtifolia’) are almost close-knit like box trees, which gives the bitter orange tree a somewhat different, attractive appearance.
Especially in the spring, almost every leaflet produces whole petals of white flowers and their fragrance seems even more intense than most other citrus varieties. In any case, the smell of the small bitter orange blossoms is sweet and sharp, elegantly perfumed. I ask myself every time I smell Chinotto, what for God's sake could a perfumier add to make the smell even more perfect? By the way, Citrus Aurantium would be a great name for the small, don't you think?
 
Finally, from the fragrance blossoms, a rich crop of cherry to mandarin-sized orange fruits (that weigh up to about 60 grams) can be used for cooking in a variety of ways. And they contain more vitamin C than most other citrus plants. All this is combined in one small compact plant, which rarely grows larger than 1 metre in pots.
 
Description of Chinotto

Growth: Compact, upright habit with the typical tapering, small leaflets, which are very narrow and directly next to each other; the branches fall below the fruit load when the trees are older
Flowers: The flowers are formed mainly in the spring and grow in dense, large tufts out of almost every leaf bud; they are up to 2.5 cm in size, white with yellow stamens and they have an intense, perfumed, sweet fragrance
Fruits: Small, cherry to mandarin-sized fruits, which can also be thinned in order to develop the fruit. The colour progresses with the maturity ranging from green and yellow to orange
Use: For various bitter/sour refreshing and digestive drinks; the peel can be used for flavouring dishes, the fruits can also be preserved or candied
Winter hardiness/overwintering: Short-term resistance to coldness down to -5°C, overwinter in a cool place with enough light; a cold winter garden or in a garage with additional lighting or large windows are best
Final size: Approximately 100 cm in the pot
Where does the name 'Chinotto' come from?
Of course one hesitates a bit because of the name: Chinotto? What is that supposed to mean? Chinotto is nothing more than the Italian diminutive form for the Chinese or for someone who comes from China. The Chinese, so to speak. Even nicer sounding and another step down is the name Chinottino, which the variety is also sometimes called. This is almost a pet name, a declaration of love to this plant and its fruits, which has been native to the Ligurian Mediterranean coast since the 16th century. It is believed that this plant was imported by a merchant ship coming from the Far East across the port of Savona around 1500 and then it quickly became known as the small Chinese citrus variety. Does this origin really apply? There are also hypotheses today that the origin of this compact growing bitter orange mutation rather originates from Vietnam than from China. And one can also safely assume that the Ligurian Chinottos or Chinottinos have become part of what they represent today on the Ligurian coast during the last 500 years because of course a continuous selection process took place during this time. It is also not excluded that there were also other crossbreedings.
Growth and flowering
The most striking and most beautiful thing about the Chinotto orange tree are the petals, which literally emerge from every leaflet, yes, they just spring right up. When they are in the balloon stage or when they open up to a full size of up to 2 to 2.5 cm, you can hardly imagine that so much volume, beauty and fragrance can come out of one bud! Of course, the little tree has lots of effort to develop all the fruits to maturity as well as to size, and it is worthwhile to thin out some of the fruit. For example, leave only one young fruit on every fruit cluster. It is then rather possible that the small, cute bitter oranges develop to the full size of approximately 60 grams. The rich harvest has a different effect: the branches growing compactly upright when the tree is young and it tends to slope downwards with increasing age and under the weight of the mass yield.
Fruit
Green harvested Chinotto fruits have the highest amount of bitterness and for some beverages this ripeness is preferred. Then the fruit colour changes from yellow to orange. Only the orange fruits can be processed into the typical tasting bitter orange marmalade; the earlier stages are too bitter and too sour.
A story about using the fruit
One might wonder how it is possible that a citrus fruit, which is weak and slow-growing, and which bears only very small and bitter/sour fruits, could survive and grow, especially in the nineteenth century, very wide-spread on the Ligurian coast? It must have been soon after the arrival in the port of Savona around 1500 (and perhaps it was already known in the Far Eastern countries) that the local sailors discovered that the small, sour fruits had a positive effect on the health of the ship's crew. Thus the small fruits of this bitter orange, inserted into salt-water barrels, in which they could be stored for months, were brought along on long voyages. It is one of the tragic and unsolved puzzles of modern sea navigation that, despite this local knowledge, it went until after 1800, until the effect of the citrus fruits against scurvy officially was recognised and then was also applied by the large seafaring nations. The Chinotto cultivation in Liguria in the 19th century is also due to the sale of fruit to the American and French navies, which brought the fruits as an anti-scurvy medicine. Also in the 19th century a large industry developed for candied fruit, for which the mouth-watering Chinottos (Citrus aurantium var. Myrtifolia), and even the smaller version, the Chinottinos, were perfectly suitable. Of course it is hard to reconstruct how the idea and method of manufacturing the candied citrus fruits came about. However, it is striking that the process of candying begins with exactly the same procedure as the fresh-keeping process for seafaring: by placing the fruits in seawater barrels. This makes the hard shell softer and takes the sourness, even the most pungent sharpness, away. Then the fruits are cooked and put into sugar water, so that the sugar saturates and takes up the moisture in the fruits. The result is this: a sweet fruit, in a mouth-watering size, but thanks to the bitterness and the refreshing sourness, it can hardly be surpassed by exciting taste nuances. Finally, in the 1930s, a beverage industry based on Chinotto fruits, which attempted to provide the American Coca-Cola with something independent, came into existence. Since a renaissance of these special sodas and soft drinks 20 years ago, there is a new wealth of different Chinotto drinks, which every citrus grower can add another variation on the basis of their own harvest. We almost forgot: Chinotto juice and Chinotto flavours are also included in Campari!
Growing, pruning and overwintering
The small, hearty Chinese citrus dwarfs are suitable for growing on terraces thanks to their super compact growth and the year-round attractiveness that few other citrus plants have. They are also suitable for balconies and terraces where space is limited. Their distribution in northern Italy also shows that they are more closely related to citrus plants. In any case, they withstand short-term frost down to -5°C and can easily and simply be overwintered in a cool and bright location at 5 to 15°C. As with most citrus varieties, overwintering in warm areas and rooms is not recommended. Especially this small citrus plant here is missing the appropriate light in our latitudes; the plant is disoriented, it does not know what to do with its forces and then it loses its leaves at worst. But even with such a horror scenario, the citrus gardener should remain "calm": simply keep the plant in a cool, light and relatively dry place until the beginning of the spring and continue to “store” it until it should be brought outside – then fertilise the plant well in the springtime; cut the plant back by 20% and then there will quickly be wonderful citrus splendour again, which one had already thought to be lost.
 
  • Available April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November
  • Use greenhouses/winter gardens, for containers, South- and West-facing walls, as a specimen plant
  • Hardiness place in an unheated room during the winter
  • Soil moist, dry, moderately heavy, light, neutral, slightly acidic
  • Location full sun
  • Flower Colour white
  • Leaf Colour green

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