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Oranges belong to the Citrus family which includes other fruit such as  lemons, grapefruit, tangerines, mandarins and kumquats. They are popular in many parts of the world both for eating and as an ingredient in recipes, with all parts of the fruit being used in various ways.



Origin and History of Oranges


There are two main types of oranges: Sweet and Bitter. Citrus aurantium the bitter orange, originated in China where it was well documented in writings by 300BC and by 100BC bitter orange seeds had made their way to Europe. The sweet orange, Citrus sinensis, is also believed to have originated in South East Asia (India, China and Indo-China). They had certainly been cultivated in China for centuries although the name "orange" comes from the Sanskrit word " narangah " which means fragrant.

The spread of the sweet orange to Europe via North Africa was relatively slow and although there is speculation that they were depicted in tile mosaics found at Pompeii dating back to 79AD, it is more likely that these were the sour variety. By the Middle Ages that we see evidence of them being widely distributed and eaten throughout much of western and southern regions, having been brought over by traders. Indeed, Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and Dutch sailors are known to have planted citrus trees along trade routes to prevent scurvy.

Columbus is credited for taking first seeds to the New World in 1493 and for having established plantings in Hispaniola. The first plantings of sweet orange in what is now the United States were established in Florida between 1513 and 1565.


Types of Oranges and Cultivation of Oranges


Of the bitter varieties, Seville oranges are possibly the best known and most widely available. These are not really suitable for eating raw and are often used in the making of preserves, in particular marmalade.

Sweet oranges are easily categorized into four groups: round, navel, blood and acidless oranges. There are many varieties of Round orange and these are the ones most of us can buy readily from supermarkets and greengrocers. Navel oranges were so named because of the small secondary fruit embedded in the end of the fruit which often resembles a navel (belly button). Blood oranges are so called because of red colouring in the flesh, the intensity of which varies from a few streaks to almost complete. Acidless oranges are characterised by a sweet, but bland flavour.


    Navel Orange

                Blood Orange

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Orange trees grow to 7 metres/22 feet in commercial orchards although they can be larger if not pruned. Even though orange trees will often come true from seed, as it takes between 8 and 15 years for the tree to start bearing fruit, the most common practise for commercial growers is by budding or grafting onto desirable rootstocks, which start bearing fruit within three years. Most cultivated varieties are self-pollinating however.  Commercially, much of the harvesting is still done manually by hand. Once the fruit have been picked they sent to packing houses where they are washed and graded before being shipped for market.


Because most of the fruit you buy has come from budded or grafted trees as described above, their seed will probably not produce fruit of the same quality. Therefore if you want to grow oranges at home itís best to buy citrus plants and only grow oranges from seed for ornamental purposes. Orange plants cannot tolerate frosts so unless you life in a frost free area, they will have to be grown indoors preferably in a conservatory or greenhouse.


Buying and Storing Oranges


Select fruit which are firm, well-coloured and feel heavy. Store oranges at room temperature to keep them at their juiciest. They should keep well for close to two weeks. Alternatively, store unwrapped in the refrigerator. When buying navel oranges, select those with small sized navels as larger navels indicate that they were overripe when picked.


Oranges in Cooking


Oranges are a versatile fruit which can be incorporated into sweet and savoury dishes. The favour goes well with cinnamon, mint,  chocolate and almonds as well as many fish, meats and poultry. Al parts of the orange are used in cooking: the juice, flesh and rind, all together or separately.


When using the rind, try to pare it thinly to avoid incorporating the white pith which can sometimes give a slightly bitter taste.


When juicing oranges, more juice can be extracted if the oranges are at room temperature. If they are cold, pierce the skins with a fork in several places then place in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. Alternatively,  place in a bowl of boiling water for 30 seconds.






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