One of the most famous fruits, oranges are round citrus fruits with an orange-colored peel. Inside of this peel or rind are sections of juicy fruit. They give off a distinct and pleasing aroma, the result of oils found in the peel.
Born in the Oriental Asian mountains, the orange has been cultivated in China for several thousand years. Originally used for medicinal and perfuming purposes, the orange gradually moved from East to West, and was a favored delicacy amongst royalty and venerated symbol for multiple cultures. According to Ancient Roman legend, oranges were brought to them by Herperides, the daughter of Atlas, who traveled to Greece by seashell via the Mediterranean Sea.
Of the two main orange varieties, sweet and sour oranges, only sweet oranges are widely grown in the U.S.
Sour oranges, which include the Seville and Bergamot varieties, are available at some specialty markets and are too bitter to eat raw. They can still be put to good use in the making of marmalades, essential oils and concoctions calling for sweetened orange peel.
Sweet oranges are ideal for eating raw and for most juicing and zesting. Some of the most common varieties include the Valencia orange, so popular that it accounts for half the yearly U.S. orange crop, the Navel orange, and the rarer Blood orange.
The mandarin orange family includes several smaller, “loose-skinned” variations of the sweet orange that are smaller and sweeter than other oranges.
While the most brilliantly-colored oranges will make the loveliest countertop decorations, be aware that the fruit’s skin color isn’t a surefire indicator of quality. Florida oranges are often colored with an artificial food dye (which does not affect the fruit in any way) and oranges are often greenish even when ripe. In fact, oranges often undergo a “re-greening” process while still on the tree, particularly if the tree is simultaneously nourishing orange blossoms with chlorophyll, and thus this green may indicate a sweeter orange because it has ripened longer.
For the juiciest fruits, try to choose oranges that are firm and heavy for their size. Orange varieties that sport a thin skin such as the Hamlin are better for juicing.
Though superficial markings on the skin don’t affect the orange quality, watch out for bruises, sponginess or shriveled spots that may indicate dryness.
Oranges can last up to two weeks refrigerated, and they often last almost as long at room temperature. The oranges’ thick skin is enough to protect them in the fridge; putting them in a plastic bag might actually hasten mold growth by trapping moisture around their peel.
Not only will keeping oranges on the countertop add a nice splash of natural color to your kitchen, but the oranges will yield more juice when they have been kept at room temperature.
While navel oranges peel easily when peeled from the “navel,” other oranges should be sliced by cutting a disk of skin from the top and then using a knife to slice the peel lengthwise.