The orange tree originated in China, but it is unclear exactly when it was domesticated. It was brought into Europe on the Silk Road, thousands of years BC, gradually spreading out from the Middle East to Europe during the Crusades.
The bitter orange was established in Sicily, while the sweet orange was introduced in the 16th century by the Portuguese.
Later on, special shelters were invented for cultivating this sun-loving tree and to supply the royal tables with oranges, such as in Versailles where the Orangeraie (the orange grove) still attracts visitors.
These two fruits crossed the Atlantic with the Conquistadores. Seeds were sown everywhere: in the Caribbean, South America, and Florida.
The pomander is an orange studded with cloves and covered in spices that was worn in the Middle Ages, around the neck, enclosed in a bag, to protect against infections.
The orange tree is now the most grown fruit tree in the world. The main producers are Brazil, the United States, Mexico, India, Spain, China, Iran, Italy, Egypt, and Indonesia.
Whatever the intended use, choose an orange that is firm with no signs of mold.
Most oranges are treated with diphenyl or thiabendazole to stop the growth of mold. This treatment must be stated on the label.
They are standardized. Within a single variety, they are all the same size and same weight. The variety, origin, category, and treatment of the oranges is always stated on the box when oranges are sold loose. Where they are packaged, this information is given on the carton or net.
A good orange will be firm to the touch. A shiny skin is not always a sign of quality, as oranges are sometimes coated with a thin film of paraffin (this treatment must be stated on the label).
Most oranges are treated with thiabendazole or diphenyl to prevent mold and repel scale insects. This treatment, which is always indicated on the label, does not penetrate into the pulp. Some oranges are sold untreated.
Oranges are industrially processed into juice: this can be fresh, 100% juice, pasteurized, frozen, made from concentrate, or powdered and reconstituted with water.
The dried peel is turned into powder.
This fruit is used to make marmalade, jam, jelly, and syrup.
Bitter orange blossoms are very fragrant and are used to produce orange blossom oil (used in perfumes) and orange flower water.
The oil extracted from the zest of bitter oranges is used to make certain liqueurs (such as Grand Marnier and Cointreau).
Oranges lend themselves to a variety of recipes, including the classic duck à l'orange. It is the star ingredient in bigarade (bitter orange) sauce and other sweet and sour sauces. Raw or juiced, it goes well with salads, as well as with meat, poultry, fish and vegetables.
In South America, there is a traditional soup made of boiled oranges, bread and lemon slices.
Grated zest is used in cooking, or can be dried and candied.
Oranges are also sometimes "supremed", i.e. all the peel, pith, membranes, and pips removed, to leave just the separated orange segments.
Orange salad is a classic dessert. Oranges have multiple uses in baking. They are used in pies, soufflés (including Grand Marnier soufflé), cakes and sorbet, etc. Crêpes Suzette would never have existed without orange juice.
Oranges also enjoy pride of place in confectionery: e.g. chocolate-covered candied peel, orange chocolate, etc.
Orange wine is made in several southern countries, including the Provence region in France.
Orange blossom is used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes.
Bergamot confit is used in Moroccan tagines.
Oranges can be stored at room temperature in a cool dry place. They may also be kept in the refrigerator.
Oranges are rich in vitamin C. They also contain B vitamins, minerals, and numerous flavonoids, protective antioxidant compounds which enhance the action of vitamin C. Like all fruit, they also contain carbohydrates.
Orange flower water has a calming action.
- Sweet oranges
In Europe, there are three major types of sweet orange:
. Blond navel oranges: their flesh is tart and they peel easily. They are medium or large, depending on the variety, and their skin may be thin or rough. One type of navel orange, the Cara Cara Navel, has pink-red flesh and is sometimes mistaken for a blood orange.
. Thin blond orange: their flesh is very juicy. They have almost no pips. These oranges are called "juice" oranges.
. Blood oranges: both skin and flesh are tinged with red.
In North America:
In addition to these types of orange, there is also the Hamlin orange, which is quite small, very sweet and very juicy, and the pineapple orange, which is quite sour but with a slight pineapple flavor (hence the name). This variety is quite rare.
- Seville orange or bitter orange
Smaller than the sweet orange, with rougher skin. The flesh is particularly bitter and not very juicy, and it has lots of pips. It is virtually inedible as it is.
Resembles an orange but is not actually one. Native to Calabria, it is a cross-breed, probably spontaneous, of an orange and a lime. Its flesh is bitter and sour. Its thick skin has a high concentration of essential oil, which is why it is grown. The oil is used to make Earl Grey tea and certain types of sweets.