(Citrus sinensis and C. aurantium— Family Rutaceae)
orange (French), Apfelsine/Orange (German), arancia (Italian), naranja (Spanish), laranja (Portuguese), appelsin (Danish/Norwegian/Swedish), appelsiini (Finnish), apelsin (Russian), pomarancza (Polish), naranca (Serbo-Croat), portokal (Bulgarian), portokáli (Greek), portakal/turunc (bitter) (Turkish), tapuz (Hebrew), burtuqal/naranj (bitter) (Arabic), porteghal/naranj (bitter) (Persian), narangi (Hindi), kamala lebu (Bengali), sangtar (Kashmiri), jeruk (Indonesian), dalanda (Philippines), tian cheng (Chinese), orenji/kan+dai-dai (bitter)(Japanese)
Oranges generally fall into two groups: sweet (Citrus sinensis) and bitter (C. aurantium).
Oranges are not always orange. Depending on the variety, oranges can also be yellow or mottled with red.
In some countries where the temperatures never cool off, oranges remain green, even when mature. It is the cool temperatures which promote the release of the orange pigments (carotenes).
If the temperature fluctuates, the fruits may alternate from one colour to the other. To overcome this problem, oranges are often treated with ethylene, which promotes the development of a uniformly “orange” appearance.
Their size also varies from being as large as a football to as small as a cherry. The flavours range from sweet to intensely sour.
Oranges look the most appealing when they are a deep, vibrant orange colour; but, on the tree, a mature orange is usually green-skinned. It will turn orange only if the cold temperature destroys the green chlorophyll pigments, allowing the yellow carotenoids underneath to show through.
In warmer climates, oranges are always green; but, in the US, oranges are green only if they are picked in the fall before the first cold snap or if they are picked early in the spring when the tree is flooded with chlorophyll to nourish the coming new growth.
Green oranges will also change colour if they are exposed to ethylene gas which, like the cold, breaks down the chlorophyll in the skin. Oranges are often dyed to attain the orange colour that consumers demand.
Orange trees are beautiful the year round, and their colourful fruits make a striking contrast to the dark glossy evergreen leaves, which give off a wonderful citrus scent.
The tree is a compact evergreen that grows to a height of forty feet and may yield fruit for sixty years or more. The waxy white star-shaped flowers also have an intense aroma which is captured in orange blossom water. The blossoms appear in the spring and are usually small, white, and fragrant, although some tropical climates tend to encourage blossoms all year round. It is little wonder that this flower is the state flower of Florida, now also known as the Citrus State.
The word orange is derived from the Sanskrit “naranga” which means ‘orange tree’. The Hindus used the same word for orange, which evolved into the Persian word “naranj”. Spain clung to the original by calling the orange “naranja”, which is still used in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Portugal adopted “laranja”, Italy used “arancia”, and France chose, what the English also use, the “orange”, with variations in pronunciation, of course.
The popularity of the orange in the Mediterranean flourished to the point where the need to protect this fragile fruit became paramount. Seneca’s 19th epistle (c 50 BCE) tells of the Roman use of “mica”, a transparent material that separates into thin leaves to shelter the most delicate plants in their gardens against the cold. Soon, entire structures were designed for this purpose and were called “stanzone per I cidri”, which were the forerunner of the modern greenhouse. In fact, Europeans called these buildings “ornageries” in honour of their celebrated occupants.
In 1494, Charles VIII of France went to Italy with the idea of conquering the peninsula but, instead, became so enthralled with with Italian art, lifestyle, and oranges that he returned to France with an entourage of Italian craftsmen, gardeners, artists, and architects, hoping to transform the French castles and gardens into those with more of an Italian influence.
His Chateau d’Amboise, housed the first French “orangerie”. During the following two centuries, every monarch in every European country built one, each larger and more magnificent than that of his predecessor. Windows reached from floor to ceiling, and mica was placed on them to seal off the cold. However, the grandest of them all was at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was a 1200-foot long building built in the shape of the letter “C”.
Bitter oranges originated in northeastern India and in the adjoining areas of China and Myanmar. During the first centuries CE, the orange began to spread beyond China, as the citron had done earlier, to Japan, India, the Near East, and to the rest of the classical world.
In the 1st century CE, the Romans became interested in the fruit; and the Arabs later spread it as far as Spain. But, except for Spain where both the orange and the Arab remained, the fall of the Roman Empire obliterated orange cultivation in Europe.
The Arabs appear to be the first to mention them in their writings. The English word now used for the fruit was derived from the Sanskrit name they adopted.
The earliest description of the bitter orange in Europe was by a 13th century author; and the sweet orange was not mentioned until 1471 in some archives from the Italian city of Savona. It was not until the time of the Crusaders that the bitter orange, along with the lemon and lime, was brought back to southern Italy by soldiers returning from Palestine.
It was then known as the “bigarade” and its juice was used as a flavouring and the whole fruit made into preserves, the ancestor of the modern orange marmalade.
This was the first orange brought to Europe by the Moors who also brought irrigation technology as the orange had flourished in Spain, despite the country’s arid weather. Because of this, the generic name of Seville is still used.
The Seville or Bigarade, cannot be eaten raw; instead, they are used for making marmalade, jams, and jellies. Vast numbers are grown in Seville; but, surprisingly, Spaniards never make marmalade and almost all of their oranges are exported to Britain. Seville oranges are used in the classic sauce bigarade, traditionally served with roast duck.
Marmalade has been made with sour oranges since 1587 when a recipe appeared in an English cookbook. The amount of pectin and acid in sour oranges makes them ideal for marmalades, especially the infamous Seville orange marmalade.
When oranges first reached Europe, they were so rare that they became a symbol of opulence to be offered as luxury gifts. The Medici family adopted five of them as their coat of arms. It was also one of the first citrus fruits brought to the Americas, where it is still used as a rootstock for other citrus fruits.
In the south of France, these oranges are crystallized and the blossoms are distilled to make an aromatic orange flower water. The aromatic oils from the peel are used to flavour liqueurs. Bitter oranges have a very short season and are only available in January.
The sour orange has a darker and more tapered leaf than the sweet orange. Sour oranges are usually flatter, have thicker, rougher peels, and range in colour from orange to yellow to pale green. The sour orange rind usually adheres more loosely to the pulp than does the peel of the sweet orange. The peel of the sour orange has been used for centuries in the culinary, as well as industrial, world. The term “sour” refers specifically to acidity while “bitter” refers to the taste of the fruit’s essential oils.
The sweet orange rapidly became popular throughout Europe and remains the most popular of all citrus fruits. They were served in theatres as refreshments and, hence, the appearance of Neil Gwynn in history books.
The Moors, who used oranges medicinally, as well as in their religious services, took them to Spain; and, from there, they made their way to the New World. Vasco de Gama later carried cultivars from India in the 15th century around the Cape of Good Hope to Portugal, which gave birth to the sweet Portuguese orange.
It was the Spaniards who introduced it to South America and Mexico, and today, Brazil and the US account for over two-thirds of the world production. In Australia, orange seeds were planted in New South Wales by Captain Arthur in 1788. The other major orange contender is that of Israel which had a more gradual start.
Sweet oranges are can be divided into five or six main categories which are available at different times of the year: Common sweet oranges, blood, navel, acidless, bitter, and mandarin, which many include with the hybrids.
The inner pulp consists of nine to sixteen segments filled with juice vesicles, and may be seedless (Washington navel), nearly seedless (Hamlin or Valencia), or have many seeds (Pineapple, Parson Brown).
Normally, ripe oranges contain 35%-50% juice by weight, depending on variety and climatic conditions. Despite claims for the high vitamin C content of oranges, each fruit will contain only 20-60 mg. of the nutrient. Like other citrus fruits, the rind contains essential oils which are used in cooking and perfumery.
Acidless, or sugar oranges, are a freak variety enjoyed in Brazil, North America, and Italy. Since they are almost without acid, their flavour is insipid.
Other hybrids that have the “orange” label include the tangor or mandarin.
The poorman orange, also known as the New Zealand grapefruit, is an orangelo, or a hybrid from an orange-grapefruit cross.
The miniature calamondin is a mandarin-kumquat hybrid, and sometimes assigned its own species.
A bitter orange hybrid is the Bergamot orange, which is a cross between a bitter orange and the Palestine sweet lime, and, according to some, should have been named the bergamont lemon.