Popular Varieties: Navel, Valencia, Seville
Store At: No colder than 12°C - some types of citrus fruit suffer chill damage and spoil.
Comes From: Temperate to Mediterranean zones. In temperate zones they require protection through the winter.
Seasonality: All Year
Oranges share similar characteristics with other members of the citrus family, as you would expect. Typically, they have a thick rind (epicarp) covered in glands that secrete oil, a whitish covering (mesocarp) and the fleshy segments (endocarp), which may or may not contain pips, depending upon the fruit type and the variety. Typically, oranges contain pips.
The orange tree is a small, glossy-leaved evergreen tree which occasionally bears thorns. The leaves of the tree, as usual for the family, secrete scented oil through glands, as does all parts of the plant, including the small white flowers.
The term "orange" originates from the Spanish word for orange, "naranja". Oranges were originally called "norange" in English, and the leading n gradually dropped.
When attempting to choose a ripe orange, disregard the skin colour. The colour is naturally green, and oranges turn orange when subjected to cold. Also, oranges can ripen to orange on the tree, and then turn back to green if they receive too much sun, so colour is not a good indicator. As with all citrus fruit, a good indicator is the general quality of the fruit, and the shininess of the rind; a glossy fruit is good quality with good moisture content, but a fruit with a dulled rind is overripe.
Oranges are susceptible to chill damage; if stored at too cold a temperature, the skin can turn brown and lose its gloss quicker. In extreme cases of chill damage, the internal structure of the fruit will break down.
For an early history of the orange, check out the general history of the Citrus family; early on, no clear cultivars can be differentiated. It was probably first grown by the Chinese around 2500 BC, and here they remained for several thousand years. Early oranges were first brought to Europe by the Romans in the first century AD but fell out of favour when the Roman Empire fell in the 5th Century.
It was several hundred years before they came back into favour, when the Moors, the Muslim natives of North Africa brought oranges with them to southern Spain in the 8th and 9th Century. They were again recorded in Italy in Sicily in 1002, by which point orange groves started to spread across the Mediterranean, most notably in Seville, still famous today for its oranges and marmalade; of course these would have been bitter oranges. Sweet oranges did not proliferate until a few centuries later; they were first seen in India in 1330, and noted as planted in Versailles in 1421 and Lisbon in 1548; this tree in Lisbon is thought of as being the parent plant of most European sweet orange trees and still lived into the 19th Century.
Christopher Columbus can be credited with carrying oranges across the Atlantic in 1493, taking them from the Canary Islands of Spain to the island of Hispaniola (now known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Several of the Caribbean islands started orange production, although these days this has mostly switched to production of bananas, to which the climate is much better suited. Orange production gradually progressed to Panama and Mexico, and from there down into South America (huge groves were planted in Brazil), and of course up into Florida and California. Today, the 90% of oranges grown in Florida are turned into juice, whilst California produces most of the oranges eaten in the U.S.
Brazil is currently the world's leading producer of oranges, with around 20,000 farms on the south-western coast alone, in an industry worth over $1 billion for juice alone. Indeed, the Valencia region of Spain from which a well-known variety receives its name has moved to producing other citrus fruit such as Clementines and no longer grows oranges in any significant quantity.
Be warned: some varieties are termed as being "seedless". As with other citrus fruit, this does not mean you will not find seeds in them - somewhat misleadingly, it means there will be less than 6 seeds in a fruit!
Oranges have two primary uses; eating and juicing.
In the US, Florida currently produces approximately 70% of the country' oranges and 90% of this crop is processed into juice. The calcium present in orange juice is better absorbed into the body than the calcium in milk; a glass of milk contains 291mg of calcium of which about 30% is absorbed, whilst a glass of orange juice has about 350mg of calcium in it, of which nearly 40% is absorbed.
Whether eaten or drunk, oranges are nutritionally excellent; in particular they have a high Vitamin C content (a medium sized orange will provide 50% of the recommended daily dosage), but they also contain high levels of folic acid, potassium and thiamine, and of course dietary fibre.
Bitter oranges, sometimes known as marmalade or Seville oranges, are typically used to make jam; these oranges are as the name suggests, too bitter to eat out of hand, and must be processed with lots of sugar to make them palatable; they also typically have a shorter season, since they are produced in fewer regions. The juice of bitter oranges is also used as a marinade in Latin America; the marinade is made with equal parts of olive oil and bitter orange, mixed with garlic and onions - a truly potent mixture!
Some slightly more obscure uses of parts of orange include: pulp is used as a pelleted animal feed, and as cat litter; orange peel oil is highly sought after for scenting perfumes and soaps, combating flies and fleas as an insecticide, and as a cleanser in several domestic products; oil from seeds is used as a cooking oil and in soaps and plastics; the nectar comprises about a quarter of honey produced in California each year; the wood of the tree is hard and valued for furniture, whilst branches are commonly used as walking sticks. Finally, oranges have several medicinal uses, including fresh peel used to treat acne, whilst orange flower water is used in some countries as a sedative.
Citrus in general require warm, rich, moist soil with good drainage – bad drainage will kill them quicker than cold weather. All of the citrus family are tender; in protected areas, they can be grown outside in England, but are unlikely to fruit well.
- History of Oranges
- Orange Varieties
- Newcrop Factsheets on Oranges
- Oranges on Wikipedia
- Hotel reservations in Valencia
Varieties of oranges are split into several groups: sweet and bitter, early and late, navels and none-navels… it can be quite confusing! Sweet oranges include Navel varieties, Valencia, Jaffas and more, and are suitable for eating out of hand as a dessert or used for juice, whereas bitter oranges such as Seville require processing into marmalade before consumption; early and late oranges mature and ripen at different times of the year, ensuring fruit is available for longer, and navels vs. non-navels refers to the structure and characteristics of the fruit. We hope that made it a bit simpler…
Also known as Maltese oranges, these are the best to use where vivid colour is important; the colour of the flesh can vary from red to purple. The name may also come from the tree itself, which is typically covered in thorns. The blood orange is thought to have come about as a mutation originally in Italy where it has been cultivated for several centuries.
Considering this variety originated as a chance seedling, it's popularity has skyrocketed, and is now the most widely grown orange in Florida, due in no small part to its excellent hardiness and survival of the great freeze of Florida in 1894 which wiped out many other crops and other varieties of orange. Also, it has a thin rind and very fleshy pulp, which makes it very productive for processing into juice. Couple this with its sweet flavour, lack of acidic taste and low seed count, and you have a near perfect orange for juicing.
This variety came from the same originating tree as the Shamouti variety. Another good juicing orange, it gained popularity quickly when introduced into Florida in the 1880s being cold-tolerant and high quality. The fruit has a light orange coloured rind, with a pale orange flesh containing few seeds.
Navel and Navelina are two of the most widely grown varieties for eating, and the most distinctive, with the navel at one end of the fruit, which is actually a small embryonic fruit itself. They have thick skins, and typically very sweet juicy flesh. Navels are seedless, and are usually propagated by. The navel varieties do very well in Mediterranean climates such as Spain, Turkey, Australia, California, Florida and others.
Another blood orange variety, this originally came from Sicily, and is a mutant of another variety, the Doble Fina. It is oblong in shape, with a golden yellow peel hiding a reddish pulp, which needs cool to cold weather to fully develop its colour. Yet another good juicing orange.
This is probably the most important commercial variety in the world, having the nickname "King of the Juice Oranges". This variety can be traced back to China, and was taken to Europe by Spanish or Portuguese voyagers. It was from here it was taken to Florida in the 1870s, where it started out as the "Brown" orange, and moved through several other names before settling on Valencia. It is a late, seedless orange, with a sharp flavour and very juicy flesh. If you're thinking of visiting Valencia in Spain, why not try Valencia Hotels?