Oranges 101 – The Basics


Oranges 101 – The Basics

About Oranges
Oranges are one of the most popular fruits around the world. There are over 600 varieties of oranges, with two categories: sweet and bitter. Of course, the sweet variety is most popular. Sweet oranges (Citrus sinensis) include Navel, Valencia, and Blood oranges. Bitter oranges (Citrus aurantium) are sometimes used to make jam or marmalade. The zest of bitter oranges is used to flavor liqueurs such as Grand Marnier and Cointreau.

The origin of oranges is unknown, but their cultivation is believed to have started in eastern Asia thousands of years ago. Sweet oranges were introduced in Europe around the 15th century by various explorers and traders who found them in Asia and the Middle East. Christopher Columbus brought them to the Caribbean during his visits, where they have been grown ever since. Spanish explorers brought them to Florida in the 16th century, and Spanish missionaries took them to California in the 18th century. This started the cultivation of oranges in the two most orange-producing states in America. When mass transportation was developed in the 20th century, oranges were taken around America for all to enjoy.

Today, they are grown in most warm climates around the world and are consumed mostly fresh and juiced. The countries that produce the most oranges commercially include the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, China and Israel.

Nutrition and Health Benefits
Oranges are well known for being an excellent source of Vitamin C. They also supply a lot of fiber, Vitamin B1, pantothenic acid, folate, Vitamin A, calcium, copper, and potassium.

The vitamins, minerals and phytonutrient compounds found in oranges give this delicious fruit an array of health promoting properties.

Antioxidant Protection and Immune Support. The Vitamin C alone in oranges provides generous antioxidant protection to the body along with helping the immune system to ward off the effects of invading microbes. Together, these compounds can help to lower the risk of colon and other types of cancer, and inflammation that can lead to asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and stroke.

Lower Cholesterol. Researchers have found that a group of compounds in orange peel, polymethoxylated flavones (PMFs), has the potential to lower cholesterol more effectively than some prescription drugs. And, they do this without side effects. The juice of oranges also contains PMFs, but at a much lower amount than what was found in the peel. The researchers suggest that zesting a tablespoon a day (from a well-scrubbed, preferably organic orange), and including it in tea, salads, salad dressings, yogurt, soups, oatmeal, buckwheat, or rice may be an easy way to include more of this important compound in the diet.

Kidney Stone Prevention. Researchers reported in the British Journal of Nutrition that women who drank ½ to 1 liter of orange, grapefruit or apple juice daily had significantly lower risk of forming calcium oxalate kidney stones.

Reduced Risk of Ulcers and Stomach Cancer. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that involved over 6,000 adults enrolled in the Third NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) project found that subjects with the highest blood levels of Vitamin C had a 25% lower infection rate with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). This is the bacterium that causes peptic ulcers, which increases the risk for stomach cancer. They concluded that eating an orange a day, or drinking a glass of orange juice daily may help prevent gastric ulcers, and ultimately stomach cancer. The lead researcher urges people who have tested positive for H. pylori to increase their intake of Vitamin C-rich foods to help combat their H. pylori infection.

Respiratory Health. The orange-red carotenoid found in oranges, corn, pumpkin, papaya, red bell peppers, tangerines, and peaches may significantly help to reduce the risk of developing lung cancer. A study of over 60,000 adults in Shanghai, China, reported in the September 2003 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention found that those eating the most foods containing this orange-red pigment had a 27% reduction in lung cancer risk. When examining the data of smoking subjects, their risk of developing lung cancer was 37% lower than smokers who ate the least amount of such foods.

Protection Against Rheumatoid Arthritis. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice a day can significantly lower your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. These findings were backed up by a study of over 25,000 subjects as reported in the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer Incidence (EPIC)-Norfolk study. Participants with the highest daily intake of various carotenoids (zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin) had a much lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (40% to 52% less likely) when compared with those who consumed the least amount.

All of these studies should be enough to encourage you to eat an orange or drink a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice every day!

How to Select an Orange
To choose the best oranges, opt for ones that have smoothly textured skin and are firm and heavy for their size. Those that are spongy or light weight for their size will not have as much juice in them. Avoid those with soft spots or traces of mold on them.

If you’ve ever lived where oranges are grown, you know that oranges, as they appear on the trees, are not uniform in color, like the ones we see in grocery stores. Naturally, they may be partially green and/or have brown speckles on them. They are not bad, nor old with those discolorations. That is merely how they appear naturally on the trees as they ripen. The purely uniformed orange-colored fruits that we typically see in grocery stores have been dyed in their skins with artificial coloring to make them look so pretty. It’s something to bear in mind when you use orange zest! If you plan to zest your oranges and want to avoid the artificial dyes, it is recommended to buy organic oranges for that purpose.

How to Store Oranges
Oranges may be stored in the refrigerator or at room temperature. It is a matter of personal preference. They will last about the same amount of time either way they are stored. The key to storing oranges is to store them loosely, and NOT wrapped in plastic. The moisture that accumulates in plastic bags will invite mold and cause them to spoil faster.

If you purchase a bag of oranges and find that one in the bag has spoiled, throw away the spoiled orange, then rinse and dry the remaining oranges to remove any mold spores that may be on them. You can take further precaution with the remaining oranges by wiping them with a paper towel or cloth that has been moistened with white vinegar. They can be allowed to dry that way, or rinsed off with cool water then dried. This last step may be especially helpful if you plan to zest your oranges.

Ways to Prepare Oranges
There are a variety of ways to zest, peel, slice, dice, segment, and serve oranges. Here is a link to a web page that covers it all in detail, complete with pictures. If you’re not sure how to cut an orange to achieve a specific outcome, check out this page…–968/all-about-oranges.asp

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Oranges
* Zest oranges before you cut them up…it’s much easier that way.

* Freeze extra orange zest in ice cube trays with some water. Add them to your glass of water for a refreshing orange flavor.

* If you are juicing oranges, they will yield more juice when at room temperature, rather than when chilled from the refrigerator. Also, to free up more juice, roll them on a flat surface under the palm of your hand before juicing.

* Make a refreshing salad with orange segments, slivered fennel and slices of boiled beets.

* If you’re making a salad with fruit that browns quickly, like apples and/or bananas, add a little orange juice and toss the fruit to disburse the juice. The fruit will not turn brown as fast and should be fine when made a little in advance.

* Use blood oranges for added color and flavor in sweet and savory dishes.

* If you’re only juicing oranges, zest them first and freeze the zest to be used later. Use frozen zest within 6 months.

* One pound of oranges is about 3 medium oranges, yielding 1 cup of juice, about 1 to 1-1/2 cups of orange sections, and 4 to 5 tablespoons of grated peel.

* One medium orange will yield about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of juice, 10 to 12 segments, and 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons of grated peel.

* Try adding orange segments to your favorite green salad.

* Make a simple snack by layering your favorite yogurt with orange segments and oats or granola. Drizzle with a little caramel sauce for an added touch.

* Make a simple fruit salad with orange segments, diced apple, sliced banana, red grapes, and some dried coconut. Top with 2 or 3 tablespoons of unsweetened pineapple or orange juice and toss to combine. Enjoy!

Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Oranges
Anise seeds, basil, cardamom, chili pepper flakes, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, mint, parsley, pepper (black), rosemary, sage, star anise, vanilla

Foods That Go Well with Oranges
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Beans (i.e., black, white), beef, chicken, chickpeas, fish, ham, nuts (i.e., almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts), pork, sesame seeds, snow peas, tofu, turkey

Vegetables: Arugula, asparagus, beets, broccoli, broccolini, cabbage (red), carrots, celery root, chiles, chives, daikon radishes, endive, escarole, fennel, garlic, ginger, greens (i.e., dandelion, salad), horseradish, jicama, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, radicchio, radishes, rhubarb, rutabagas, scallions, shallots, spinach, squash (winter), sweet potatoes, turnips, watercress, yams

Fruits: Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, berries (i.e., blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), coconut, cranberries, dates, figs, fruit (in general, fresh, dried), grapefruit, kiwi, lemon, lime, mangoes, olives, papayas, pears, pineapple, plums, pomegranates, pumpkin, starfruit

Grains and Grain Products: Barley, bulgur, cereals, couscous, millet, noodles (Asian), quinoa, rice, seitan, wild rice

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese (i.e., cream, feta, goat), cream, mascarpone, yogurt

Other Foods: Brandy, chocolate, honey, liqueurs (orange), maple syrup, miso, mustard (Dijon), oil (olive, sesame, sunflower seed), soy sauce, sugar (esp. brown), tamari, vinegar (i.e., balsamic, champagne, cider, red wine, rice wine, sherry, white wine), wine (red)

Oranges have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Asian cuisines, baked goods (i.e., cakes, muffins, quick breads, scones, tarts), beverages (i.e., juices, sangrias, smoothies), cereals (hot breakfast), Chinese cuisine, compotes, desserts (i.e., puddings), gremolata, marinades, marmalade, salad dressings, salads (i.e., avocado, carrot, fruit, green), sauces, smoothies (i.e., berry, pineapple), soups (i.e., fruit), sorbets, stir-fries

Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Oranges
Add oranges to any of the following combinations…

Almonds + lettuce + jicama
Almonds + dates + figs
Arugula + hazelnuts
Avocados + beets
Avocados + black beans + red onions
Balsamic vinegar + beets + fennel
Barley + fennel + radishes
Black beans + quinoa
Carrots + ginger
Cashews + rice
Chickpeas + couscous + fennel
Chili pepper flakes + garlic + ginger + soy sauce
Cilantro + jicama
Cinnamon + honey + pears
Cranberries + pears
Fennel + olives
Fennel + walnuts
Fennel + watercress + white beans
Goat cheese + pomegranates + walnuts
Honey + rosemary
Pecans + radicchio
Sesame + spinach

Some Varieties of Oranges Found in the United States
All of the oranges listed below, except the Seville oranges, are considered to be “sweet” varieties of oranges and are excellent for eating in a variety of ways. Try them as they become available in your area, and enjoy the subtle differences between the citrus varieties.

Blood Oranges. The flesh of blood oranges is a deep red color, and is very sweet. They may have a tinge of redness on the skin. They came from Italy, and are now grown mostly in California and in Florida. They are not always found in American grocery stores, but can be seen occasionally.

Clementine Oranges (AKA “Cuties”). Clementine oranges are small, sweet, and seedless. They are the perfect snack for young and old alike, and work well on fruit trays. They are in season from November to January.

Hamlin Oranges. Hamlin oranges are medium to small in size with few, if any seeds. They have a thin, smooth skin, with a finely pitted surface. Hamlin oranges are tender, juicy, and sweet with little acid. They are a major crop in Florida and Brazil.

Kumquats. A Kumquat looks like a very tiny elongated orange. Kumquats are known for their edible, thick peel, so they are eaten whole (there’s not much left if they are peeled). However, their flavor is somewhat sour. Kumquats are often made into marmalade, or pureed and included in cream pies.

Mandarin Oranges. Mandarin oranges are a type of tangerine that is small, mild and sweet. They are sold mostly in cans or jars, but fresh Mandarins are increasing in popularity.

Navel Oranges. Navel oranges are the most common type of orange marketed in the United States. They are medium to large in size, sweet, juicy, seedless, and very popular. They have thick skin and a little dimple on one end that resembles a human navel. They can be used in both raw and cooked applications.

Satsuma Oranges. Satsuma oranges are a type of small Mandarin orange. They are seedless and easy to peel. They are in season from November to January, and are grown around the Gulf Coast in the United States to California.

Seville Oranges. Seville oranges are a sour variety of orange that is often used in making marmalade. The juice from Seville oranges also works well for cooking, and being included in cocktails and salad dressings (in place of lemon or lime juice). They are a rather small orange with limited availability, usually from December to the beginning of February.

Sunburst Tangerines. Sunburst tangerines are an early crop that is widely grown commercially in Florida. The somewhat flattened fruit is medium in size, with a thin, smooth skin that is easily removed. They contain anywhere from 10 to 20 seeds.  They are juicy with a sweet flavor.

Tangelo. A Tangelo is a cross between a grapefruit or pummelo and a mandarin orange. They look like dark oranges with a stubby, protruding stem end. The Minneola tangelo is the most common variety found in the United States. They are sweet and juicy.

Valencia Oranges. Valencia oranges are best known for their juice. However, they are excellent eating oranges too. They have thin skins, a few seeds and (of course) are very juicy. They were named after the Spanish city, Valencia, when they were first introduced in California. Today, Valencia oranges remain an important citrus crop in California.

Recipe Links
Candied Orange Peel

67 Sweet and Savory Orange Recipes

7 Ways with Fresh Oranges

16 Surprising New Uses for Old Oranges

90 of Our Most Irresistible Orange Recipes

25 Ways to Use Oranges

30 of the Best Orange Recipes



Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.


About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

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