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Sumo oranges are in season right now. What makes them so special?

Hoda called this rare orange her "favorite fruit."
Hoda and Jenna sampled the fruit on the TODAY show Wednesday morning.
Hoda and Jenna sampled the fruit on the TODAY show Wednesday morning.TODAY/Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Hoda Kotb just revealed her favorite fruit — and it's got a pretty interesting name.

The TODAY anchor shared her love for Sumo oranges during Wednesday's TODAY with Hoda & Jenna and even brought one for Jenna to taste.

"OK, so, it's really thick skin, easy to peel. I just want you to try it," Hoda said excitedly. "It's only available now in this one moment. It's like for a month or two and then that's it, then they go away."

Jenna was intrigued and took a good look at the orange, noting, "It does sort of look like a sumo wrestler."

Once she bit into the juicy fruit, Jenna immediately seemed satisfied, but then her face quickly changed as she experienced a change in flavor.

"It's sour. Is yours sour?" she asked Hoda.

Hoda was noticeably shocked at Jenna's reaction. "What? You just put a knife into my favorite fruit!" she teased.

Jenna quickly clarified and said she did indeed enjoy the taste.

So, what exactly are Sumo oranges and why are they only around for a few months? TODAY Food did a little digging to find out.

What are Sumo oranges?

The fruit's manufacturer Sumo Citrus describes Sumo oranges as "the world's most adored fruit" on its website, but what sets them apart from other oranges? Well, they're pretty large, for starters.

"Sumo oranges are essentially fancy mandarins. They are seedless and easy to peel, and don’t have a lot of pith," Tracy Wilk, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, told TODAY.

Also known as "dekopon," the fruit has a unique top knot that makes it pretty recognizable. Another interesting feature? Sumo Citrus describes its oranges as a "no-mess experience" and claims that the fruit won't spray juice all over your hands.

They're also very good for you: One Sumo orange provides 163% of your recommended daily amount of vitamin C, plus three grams of fiber.

Citrus Salad with Herbs

What do Sumo oranges taste like?

Sumo oranges are known for their sweet flavor, and Max Hardy, owner and head chef of Coop Detroit, told TODAY he's a big fan of the fruit.

"Sumos are one of my favorite forms of mandarins to eat when I can find them in season," he said. "They have a mild but still bittersweet taste to them."

Hoda and Jenna both had a different experience eating a Sumo orange, and that's not uncommon, especially since some varieties of the fruit might taste slightly different depending on where you live.

"They're a delicious cross between a mandarin, citron and pomelo," Hardy explained. "I like to think of them as one of the high maintenance fruits in the orange family."

Wilk also compared the flavor to that of an "in-season, perfectly ripe orange" and said Sumo oranges are marked by their "juicy, tangy and zesty" taste.

How long have Sumo oranges been around?

Sumo Citrus grows its juicy oranges in the San Joaquin Valley of California and also has partner growers in Australia. The unique fruit dates back to the '70s, when a Japanese grower, on a quest marry the easy-to-peel Japanese mandarin and sweet, juicy California orange, developed a variety called "dekopon." After that, seedlings were imported to the U.S. in 1998 and it took until 2011 for farmers to perfect the fruit.

When are Sumo oranges in season?

Like Hoda said, Sumo oranges are a rarity that only come around for a short period of time every year. According to the Sumo Citrus website, the fruit is only available for four months a year: between January and April.

"Because the Sumo tree has to be cared for so particularly, growers can only pick the fruit during a certain time of year to ensure it's ripe and sweet to their standards," Hardy explained.

Hoda said she plans ahead and always orders her Sumo oranges when they first come out.

"I wait 'til January because they come out now and they're gone by February or March because they're so good," she said on the show.

Why are they more expensive than other oranges?

You can find Sumo oranges at a variety of supermarkets, including Wegmans, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, but they will set you back a bit more than your average orange — averaging about $4 a pound.

"Sumo oranges are more expensive because they aren’t grown as widely and by as many suppliers, so they can be more difficult to get. They also have a short growing season," said Wilk.

According to the Sumo Citrus website, it typically takes four years for a Sumo Citrus tree to produce any fruit, and a lot of labor goes into the process.

"Similar to Wagyu beef, the care of a Sumo Orange tree is very specific," Hardy said. "The trees only grow in certain areas and are hard to mature. They require high-level care for four years, almost to the point of babying the tree."