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How to Choose Citrus: All About Oranges

On Oranges and All Things Citrus

Oranges are something I have always enjoyed. I have eaten them off the tree since I was young and have eaten them from unripe to dried out old. When you get an orange or any citrus for that matter, that is ripe, there is no better flavor in the world. The best orange comes right off the tree. Pick a ripe fruit, cut open in the cool winter sun and consume it right there. It is so juicy that the fluid runs down your forearms as you eat. Flavors abound, the sweetness and tartness explode in your mouth.

Ambersweet oranges, a new cold-resistant orang...
 USDA photo. Image Number K3644-12. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, so most of the world does not have this as an opportunity, how do I get the best from my marketplace? I have heard people complain about the bitter taste, the lack of taste and the lack of juice in their oranges. The main problem is knowing how to pick an orange that is ready to eat. Most citrus follow the same general rules. There are many varieties of oranges that are sold in shops around the world but the variety is less important than the quality of the fruit.

Types of Oranges
The most of today’s oranges come from California and Florida; in general, the Florida oranges are thin-skinned and very juicy, while oranges from California have a thicker peel and are better for eating. Some of the oranges you’ll see during this fruit’s season from Mid November to late March are:

Naval orange: Large, seedless, easily separated and the best eating oranges
Valencia: Thin-skinned with a high juice content.
Hamlin: A smaller sweet juice orange.
Clementine: Small and thin skinned and great for easy snacking
History of Oranges

The genus Citrus is native to Southern Asia. The name “orange” comes from the Sanskrit word naranga and not, as one would suppose the color of the fruit. There are about 16 species and they are all small evergreen trees and shrubs, usually with spines on trunks and branches. Records of domestication of oranges go back to about 500 BC. Of the varieties we eat today there are records of the Navel and Valencia orange in China in the 1100’s BC. These oranges were in the Mediterranean by the 1400’s. Europeans spread them around the world in the 1600’s.

How to Choose a Good Orange
The freshest orange would not ship well. It will bruise easily and rot quickly. The grower must expertly judge which of the fruit are ready to pick slightly ahead of time and then get them to the consumer as fast and as gently as possible. The earlier fruit is picked the less flavor is in the flesh, and the less sweetness in the juice. The early fruit will ship the easiest and cheapest though. The one thing that grocers pay strict attention to yet is the least important is the skin of an orange. There are many reasons for a fully ripe orange not to be orange colored on the outside. Color is not the best test. Blemishes from most of the citrus fungus will not affect the taste of an orange. The quality and time from the tree are probably the most important factors for taste.

To choose your fruit you will want to choose oranges that are firm and heavy for their size. When I pick an orange it is usually with my eyes closed. I will hold the fruit in my hands and give it a gentle squeeze. It should have a small amount of give. A hard orange was either picked too early or too late. You are giving up a great deal of flavor with these. Too soft and your orange probably has started to rot. The real test for me is to hold the orange to my nose. Sniff. Smell the bloom end of the fruit. The blossom is the opposite end from the stem. The freshest scent will escape no matter how much wax the peel has on it. This will also help sort out the too old fruit. If you detect a slight wine smell this is not for you.

Enjoy your orange, think of things tropic. These are the best tasting and healthiest fruit around in the winter.

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