The Toxic Etrog: Read Before You Eat

Thanks to Eve Jochnowitz for this guest post – important thoughts for anyone who is considering making etrog vodka or jam! Eve maintains a blog on Yiddish language, culture and food called In Mol Araan.


For many of us, one of the countless delights of the joyous Succoth festival just ended is the windfall of a citron (ethrog, etrog, or esrik), an unusual, delicious and generally difficult-to find fruit for most of the year. The citron (citrus medica) differs from its relative the lemon (citrus limon) in that it is less acid, with a deeper, rounder, slightly bitter flavor. The citron has considerable less juice and pulp than the lemon, and a thicker, pithier rind. For many years folks have been asking for citron recipes in the days following the holiday and I have always found this to be an inspiring challenge. Esrik-scented vodka was a revelation.

This year, regrettably, I must urge you to ignore all previously proffered esrik recipes. Find out why below.

I have now heard from two individuals, one of whom worked on an esrik farm, that we should under no circumstances eat our esrogim. Because there is so much pressure for the fruit to be as beautiful as possible, the esrogim are drenched with toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to an even greater extent than typical in conventional agriculture.

This raises some interesting questions about the nature of beauty, or where the beauty of a fruit resides. My own feeling is that a fruit soaked in chemical toxins is way less beautiful than an organic esrik would be, and I don’t even mean I need to eat the esrik or make the vodka, but just that such an esrik would be more beautiful for its own sake. What do you think? Might a growing demand for naturally beautiful esrogim change established practice?

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Photo Credit (and another interesting etrog article) from: Sustainable Judaism

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15 Responses to “The Toxic Etrog: Read Before You Eat”

  1. Bloom Says:

    There is another good reason to be careful with your etrog. Many of the etrogs from Israel have the status of “kedushat shevi’it” meaning they have a special status owing to the fact that they were grown in Israel during the shmitta year.

    It is absolutely forbidden by Jewish law to use one of these etrogs (or any food that has kedushat shevi’it) in a way that wastes any part of the fruit. Eg, if you were to eat the flesh you would have to eat the peel and seeds as well, or find some other constructive use for them. The easiest solution is just to let you etrog dry out and use it as a decoration.

    Another traditional usage is to stick cloves into the skin, then once the etrog has dried you can use it as ‘besamim’ spices for havdallah.

  2. WoolSilkCotton Says:

    When I visited Rome last year, I wandered through an outdoor fruit and vegetable market, and came upon a basket of huge esrogim, each selling for about a euro. One of them was cut in half, and it was definitely an esrog. They are sold as ordinary fruit!
    Too bad it was after the holidays. I could have had the biggest most kick-ass esrog for a buck! Would have had to sneak it home in my luggage, though.

  3. Rachel Barenblat Says:

    I read this post with great interest because I am planning to make spicy etrog pickle this year (adapting an Indian pickled lemon recipe). How amused I was (and am) to see that you illustrated your post with one of my photographs, from a post I made about etrog marmelade (which was then picked up by Simcha Daniel at Sustainable Judaism, which is where you found the photo.) I do love the interconnections of the internet!

  4. Eric Schulmiller Says:

    Maybe one of Hazon’s next projects can be to start (or fund) an organic etrog farm – either in the US or Israel?

  5. Simcha Daniel Says:

    Sorry about the attribution mistake, Rachel… I didn’t mean to steal your picture, just to use it.

  6. Eric Debonchemin Says:

    The rind of the Etrog should be peeled and then the fruit could be used for liquor, jam, drink base, etc…
    And with the thankgiving on Tu Bishvat: Peri Haetz and Shehechyanu Vekyemanu.

  7. Kathy Says:

    It may or may not be enough to peel the etrog (halacha aside for the moment.) Some pesticides are “systemic” and are taken up by the whole fruit (indeed by the whole plant.) Others reside mostly on the skin & may be washed or peeled off.

    -If peeling the etrog is enough to remove the toxics (and again, I don’t know) perhaps the dried peel could be used in a potpourri.

  8. Queenscook Says:

    Although comment # 1 (by Bloom) was written in 2008, I would still like to respond to it. This past year was not a shmitta year, so the etrogim of this year do not have kedushat sheviit, but I do not think s/he was correct in the halacha about food with kedushat shevi’it.

    One certainly DOES NOT have to consume the inedible peels of fruit with such kedusha, or even, as s/he says, “find some other constructive use for them.” All one has to do is leave the uneaten/unused parts to dry or rot, then dispose of them respectfully. They can be thrown away, though wrapping the dried or rotted remains is preferable to just dumping them. Halacha does NOT require one to eat inedible peels; no one would be able to eat any fruit with such a peel if that fruit was grown in a shmitta year, and that is certainly not the halacha.

  9. Cheri (Ahava) Lexvold Says:

    Delightful! And I, a girl who just found out last year that I have a Jewish heritage, was educated (I didn’t know what an etrog was!)

  10. Alexandra Says:

    Considering what the gust poster had merely guessed is not actually true, maybe Hazon should take this post down. If you are comfortable with the USDA regulations for citrus in general, then there is no reason to single out etrogim. They are considered food and regulated as such.

  11. Etrog man Says:

    This is extremely important. Most errors are not fit for consumption.
    I vist error fields in Italy every summer.

  12. Matt Says:

    At Sweetwater Orchards, we grow our etrogim without use of any pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. Utilizing clean agricultural practices, and integrated pest management, our etrogim are food-grade!

  13. Matt Says:

    Also note that etrogim are imported as an ornamental fruit, not a food product.

  14. Deanna Margulies Says:

    This year 2017 I have amassed 14 Etrogim and am very worried before I start to make jam that the etrogim are loaded with Pesticidies Would it help if I first wash them in a solution of Alcohol and water or will it make the jam more toxic. In the last few years that I have made the jam I have not had any comments about people feeling sick, only that it is delicious. Someone please advise me!!!

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