General Description: The sweet orange (Citrus sinensis_) has sweet, juicy, orange-colored flesh. The bitter orange (_Citrus aurantium) has sour juice and an aromatic rind. The orange’s wild ancestors are thought to have come from China and India, but today Brazil and the U.S. together produce more than two-thirds of the world’s oranges. The name “orange” comes from the Sanskrit word naranga. The sour orange was the first to travel westward and was grown in Sicily by the 11th century. The sweet orange followed about 500 years later.

Most American oranges come from Florida and California. Due to differences in soil and climate, Florida and California oranges—even those of the same variety—vary in color, texture, and juiciness. Florida oranges are thin-skinned, very juicy, and easy to squeeze. California oranges are best for eating. They usually have full orange color (due to a drier climate with cooler nights), thicker skin, and less juice.

The mutation that produced the blood orange’s ruby red color arose in the 17th century in Sicily. These small to medium-sized fruits with moderate amounts of seeds have tangy juice.

The Cara Cara orange originated at the Hacienda de Cara Cara in Venezuela. Cara Caras are medium in size, have a bright orange peel with pink- to raspberry-colored flesh, and are usually seedless. Their taste is sweet with undertones of sweet grapefruit. They are juicy and best eaten fresh.

The Jaffa orange from Israel has been popular since the late 19th century. Fragrant, sweet, and juicy, Jaffas are easy to peel, have no navel, and are almost seedless.

The navel orange originated in Bahia, Brazil, and is now the most important eating orange variety in the world. They thrive in the Mediterranean, Australia, California, and Argentina. Each navel orange has an unmistakable “baby fruit” imbedded in its blossom end. They mature early, are typically large and seedless, and segment easily. If used for juice, they should be squeezed as needed because their juice turns bitter quickly, even when refrigerated.

The Seville orange, a bitter orange, has a thick, rough skin and an extremely tart, bitter flesh full of seeds. Because of its high acid content, the Seville is used for making marmalades as well as liqueurs. They are an essential seasoning in Spanish and Latin American cuisine, especially in Cuba.

Valencia oranges have a thin rind that is difficult to peel when not fully mature. They have plenty of dark juice and two to four seeds, making them good for both eating and juicing.

Season: Oranges are available year-round, though the peak season is in colder months, starting in October and running through late March or early April.

Purchase: Choose oranges that are firm, heavy for their size, and evenly shaped. The skin should be smooth rather than deeply pitted. Thin-skinned oranges are juicier than thick-skinned varieties, and small to medium-sized fruits are sweeter than large ones.

Skin color is not a good guide to quality: Some oranges are artificially colored with a harmless vegetable dye, while others may show traces of green although they are ripe. Through a natural process called “regreening,” the skins of ripe oranges sometimes revert to green if there are blossoms on the tree at the same time as the fruit. Oranges that have “regreened” may actually be sweeter because they are extraripe.

Avoid: Superficial brown streaks will not affect the flavor or texture of the fruit, but oranges that have serious bruises or soft spots, or feel spongy, should be avoided.

Storage: Oranges keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator but keep almost as well at room temperature with no wrapping. They yield more juice when at room temperature.


  1. Peel the orange by hand, or slice away the skin and white pith, if desired. For juicing, simply halve the fruit with the skin on.
  2. To section peeled fruit for salads, cut away the outer and inner skin to expose the pulp. Run a sharp knife along the sides of the dividing membranes to release the sections. Work over a bowl to catch the juices.

Note: For orange zest, scrub oranges with hot soapy water first. Use the fine side of a hand grater, a special zesting tool, a sharp paring knife, or a vegetable peeler to remove the zest. Try not to scrape any of the bitter white pith.

Serving Suggestions: Make an orange Bavarian cream surrounded by thin slices of orange simmered in sugar syrup till tender. Add a little orange juice and zest to chocolate cake and brownie recipes. Season scallop or fish seviche with Seville orange juice, minced chiles, salt, and cilantro.

Flavor Affinities: Almonds, avocado, beets, black olives, chicken, chocolate, cinnamon, custards, fennel, mint, olive oil, red onion, roast pork, salad greens, seafood, sherry vinegar, sweet potatoes, vanilla, winter squash.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com