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Oranges

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

More than any other fruit, the orange is associated with--and valued for--its vitamin C content. It is, in fact, the primary source of vitamin C for the majority of Americans. But oranges have more to offer nutritionally than just this one nutrient. A small orange (about five ounces) contains generous levels of folate (folic acid), potassium, and thiamin, as well as some calcium and magnesium. And compared to other citrus fruits, oranges have a broader range of uses: They can be added to various cooked or cold dishes, eaten as snacks, or squeezed for their delicious juice.

Americans consume most of their oranges in the form of juice, which provides 140% of the current suggested daily intake of vitamin C. However, if you choose to eat a whole orange instead of drinking a glass of juice, you'll get about the same amount of vitamin C with the added benefit of more than 3 grams of dietary fiber.

Orange trees are semitropical non-deciduous trees and, like other citrus fruits, they probably originated in Southeast Asia. We take oranges for granted now (they are the third most popular fruit in the U.S., right behind bananas and apples), but at one time they were expensive and only rarely available in cooler climates. Columbus brought orange seeds and seedlings with him to the New World, and by the 1820s, when Florida became a U.S. territory, there were thriving orange groves in St. Augustine. By 1910, Florida was on its way to its current status as the number-one citrus-growing state.

In the Forties, scientists developed frozen orange-juice concentrate which led to oranges becoming the main fruit crop in the United States. Today, Florida produces about 70% of the country's oranges, and about 90% of the crop is processed into juice. California and Arizona are the other two states where oranges are extensively cultivated. Their oranges, however, have thicker skins than Florida fruits, a characteristic that helps to protect them against the drier climates of the West. They are also more prized as eating oranges.

Varieties

There are two types of oranges, sweet and sour. Only sweet oranges are grown commercially in the United States, and those you are most likely to find include:

Hamlin: One of the earliest-maturing oranges, Hamlins are grown primarily in Florida. Although they are practically seedless, their flesh is rather pulpy so they are better for juicing than for eating. Small in size, Hamlins have a very thin skin. Season: October through December

Jaffa: These oranges are imported from Israel. They are similar to Valencias, but have a sweeter flavor. Season: mid-December through mid-February

Navel: These large, thick-skinned oranges are easily identified by the "belly-button" found at their blossom end. Navels are seedless, almost effortlessly peeled, and easily segmented--qualities that, along with their sweet flavor, make them excellent eating oranges. California navels are somewhat more flavorful than those grown in Florida. They can be used for juice, but should be squeezed as needed because the juice turns bitter over time, even when refrigerated. Season: November through April

Pineapple: Similar to Hamlins in appearance, these oranges--named for their aromatic quality--are seedy but very flavorful and juicy; though best for juicing, they are good for eating if you don't mind the seeds. Season: December through February

Valencia: These are the most widely grown oranges; they account for about half the crop produced each year. Medium- to large-sized, Valencias have a smooth, thin skin and an oval or round shape. They are dual purpose oranges, because they can either be eaten whole or squeezed for juice. Florida Valencias, which are available in the middle of the orange season, are considered the best juice oranges. Season: March through June

Blood orange: The blood orange is a less common variety, usually found in gourmet shops. The ruby-red color of their flesh and juice (not their skin, which is orange) gives these sweet, juicy oranges their name. Imported from Mediterranean countries and grown in California, blood oranges are small- to medium-sized fruits. Season: March through May

Availability

Oranges are available year round, though the bulk of the domestic crop appears in the colder months, starting in October and running through late March or early April.

Shopping

The different varieties of oranges will be at their best during the midpoint of their growing seasons. Choose oranges that are firm, heavy for their size (they will be juiciest), and evenly shaped. The skin should be smooth rather than deeply pitted, although juice oranges are generally smoother than navels. Thin-skinned oranges are juicier than thick-skinned varieties, and small- to medium-sized fruits are sweeter than the largest oranges. There is no need to worry about ripeness--oranges are always picked when they are ripe.

Skin color is not a good guide to quality: Some oranges are artificially colored with a harmless vegetable dye (this is permitted in Florida, but not in California or Arizona), while others may show traces of green although they are ripe. Florida oranges are likely to be slightly greenish, while California oranges are usually a true orange color. Through a natural process called "regreening," the skins of ripe oranges sometimes revert to green if there are blossoms on the tree at the same time as the fruit. This is because the tree produces chlorophyll to nourish the blossoms, and some of the pigment may be taken up by the mature fruit. Oranges that have "regreened" may actually be sweeter because they are extra-ripe.

Superficial brown streaks will not affect the flavor or texture of the fruit, but oranges that have serious bruises or soft spots, or feel spongy, should be avoided.

Storage

Oranges keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. But they keep almost as well at room temperature, retaining nearly all of their vitamin content even after two weeks. (They will also yield more juice at room temperature.) Their sturdy peel protects them and they require no further wrapping. In fact, if oranges are placed in unperforated plastic bags the moisture trapped inside may encourage mold growth. If you like to eat oranges chilled, by all means refrigerate them.

Preparation

Halve unpeeled oranges crosswise for juicing, or halve them either crosswise or lengthwise and then cut each half into thirds, for a juicy snack to be eaten from the peel. For garnishing, halve an orange lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into slices.

Navel oranges peel easily if you insert your finger into the opening and pull back the peel. To peel other types of oranges, cut a disk of peel from the top, then cut slices of peel longitudinally from top to bottom. Finally, cut the remaining peel from the bottom. Or, peel spiral-fashion (as you would an apple) after removing a slice from the top. Separate the orange segments by cutting between the membrane and flesh with a sharp knife. Work over a bowl to catch the juices. For orange "cartwheels," just slice the peeled fruit crosswise.

If you need orange zest--the flavorful orange part of the peel--use the fine side of a hand grater, a special zesting tool, a sharp paring knife, or a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from a scrubbed orange. Try not to scrape any of the bitter white pith from the fruit along with the colored part of the peel. Check that the oranges you use for zest are not artificially colored or waxed.

Two to four medium-sized oranges will yield about 1 cup of juice; one medium-sized orange will yield about 4 teaspoons of grated zest.

Nutrition Chart

Oranges/1 medium

64
Total fat (g)
0.1
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
3.4
1
Carbohydrate (g)
16
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
1
Vitamin C (mg)
80
Folate (mcg)
47

Orange Juice/1 cup

110
Total fat (g)
0.7
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0.5
2
Carbohydrate (g)
25
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
3
Vitamin C (mg)
82
Folate (mcg)
45
Potassium (mg)
473


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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