Often, these 101 articles are on ingredients and resources originally found naturally in the Earth’s great wildernesses.
However, today we’re looking at something whose difference from this trend might surprise you: oranges. Though you may think that oranges are the most natural thing in the world, with tropical orange groves positively teaming with flora and fauna, they are in fact mostly a man-made phenomenon, cultivated from combined genes to form the orange trees and their fruits that we know and love.
They are nevertheless one of the healthiest foodstuffs around, packed full of important vitamins and plenty of fibre, and are commonly put to a variety of well-known (and less well-known) uses.
Read on to learn more in my Oranges 101.
What are oranges? A brief history
The earliest mention of the sweet orange is in literature dated to 314 BCE, with their origins traced back to ancient China.
Orange trees are grown in tropical and subtropical climates where their sweet fruit flourishes. Their fruit can be eaten whole and fresh, processed into juice, or else used for its peel.
The sweet orange is not a wild fruit, and was never available in nature, but was rather cultivated from a cross between mandarin oranges and pomelos. All varieties of the sweet orange – some of which I’ll go into more detail below – are descended from this cross.
They only differ in their selectively bred mutations. Nowadays, they are the most cultivated fruit in the world, and they account for around 70% of global citrus production.
Moorish invaders introduced the orange to Europe, via their conquered Spanish territories in modern Andalusia.
Large scale cultivation began in the 10th century CE, though sweet oranges were relatively unknown throughout the rest of Europe until the late 15th or early 16th centuries CE, when Italian and Portuguese merchants began trading them throughout the Mediterranean basin.
By the mid-1600s the sweet orange was well known throughout Europe.
Its initial reception was as a delicacy, a luxury item only available to the wealthiest of Europe’s citizenry. Rich Europeans grew their own oranges in private conservatories (orangeries), with Louis XIV of France building a particularly grand example at the Palace of Versailles due to his own love of the fruit (and the prestige it exhibited.)
Potted orange trees were a common sight in the Palace of Versailles at this time, placed throughout the various buildings and grounds, and the orangery provided a steady, year-long supply of the fruit for the royal court.
Spanish travellers brought the sweet orange to the American continent, where it flourishes to this day in the warmer climates of California and Florida.
Christopher Columbus is thought to have planted orange groves in Hispaniola on his second western voyage, whilst explorers throughout the 16th century CE brought them to South America and Mexico, then later to what is now the southern United States.
Oranges were not just the product of colonial exploration, however: they were one of its most useful fuels. They are rich in vitamin C – as I will explain below – and are easily stored so that they don’t spoil.
During the Age of Discovery, sailors planted citrus trees along trade routes and used their fruits to prevent scurvy (lime was also a well-utilised fruit for this, with Brits having the global nickname ‘Limies’ as their own naval forces ate so many.)
Over 70 million tons of oranges are grown, traded and consumed worldwide today. Brazil produces nearly a quarter of this output, closely followed by China and India.
Five varieties of orange
There are numerous varieties of the sweet orange – as might be expected of any fruit with such a long history of cultivation – and I’ve selected my top five below:
The Navel Orange
This is the one you’ll likely find most commonly on sale in your local shop. It gets its name from its ‘navel’ – a second fruit that slightly protrudes from the orange’s apex, which some say resembles a human naval.
The naval orange is large with thick skin, making them easy peelers, though they are more bitter and produce less juice than other varieties. Although they won’t produce the best orange juice, they are perfect for a refreshing snack or palate cleanser.
The Mandarin Orange
Mandarins are smaller alternatives to the regular, navel orange. They have looser skin and a much sweeter taste with less acidity. Tangerines and clementines, alongside myriad others, are part of the Mandarin family: all bring something unique and sweet to the table (see below.)
The Blood Orange
Blood oranges are so called because of their rich, ruby flesh – somewhat going against the orange’s colourful namesake.
They have thick peel, are medium-sized and are one of the most aromatic fruits you can find. They have a sweet, slightly tart flavour and are very juicy, making eating them potentially a messy affair!
Because of the vibrancy of their colour, blood oranges are often used in desserts or garnishes, but are just as nice eaten on their own, fresh and untampered with, or juiced into a deliciously sweet drink.
These are a global favourite for good reason: clementines are small and seedless, easy to peel, and delicious, making them a perfect, mess-free snack. They have attractive thin, glossy skins and are slightly flattened in shape.
Tangerines are smaller and sweeter than most oranges, with soft, thin skin much like their clementine cousins. They are easy to peel and contain more vitamin C than usual for oranges, which is one of the main health-giving benefits of including them in your diet (see below.)
Quick Facts About Oranges
Before we go into too much detail, let’s run through a few quick fun facts about oranges to better acquaint ourselves with these delicious little fruits:
- Oranges have been grown since ancient times and originated in Southeast Asia.
- Around 85% of all oranges produced are used for juice.
- Marmalade is simply orange jam.
- Oranges are famous for their high amount of vitamin C – I’ll be talking about this content in depth throughout this article.
- Oranges are fully domesticated, bred by humans, so you won’t find them growing naturally in the wild.
- It is believed that Christopher Columbus was the first to bring orange seeds to America during his second voyage to the region in 1493.
- There are typically ten segments inside an orange.
- Ideal conditions for growing oranges are in sub-tropical areas that have good amounts of sunshine and moderate to warm temperatures and there are now over 600 varieties of oranges worldwide.
- Orange peel can be used by gardeners to sprinkle over vegetables as a slug repellent.
- The highly fragrant white orange blossom is the state flower of Florida. It has also long been used in weddings as cake decoration, in bridal bouquets and wreaths. The blossom essence and the plant’s leaves are important ingredients in perfume manufacture.
Orange Nutrition Facts
A medium orange – around 150 grams – will typically contain 80 calories. These calories come mostly from carbohydrates, of which 14 grams are sugar and 3 grams are dietary fibre, with a further 1 gram of protein. They also give you 250 milligrams of potassium and contain trace amounts of fat.
A single orange can provide up to 130% of your daily vitamin C requirements, making them one of the most potent sources of it available and more than earning them their reputation as a significant immune support booster.
Oranges also provide thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, folate, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and copper. They also contain choline, zeaxanthin and carotenoids, whose health benefits I’ll run through below.
Health benefits of oranges
There are a range of health benefits to be had from oranges, due to their impressive nutrition values. And, of course, we’ve compiled a few of the top ones for you, right here:
They have cancer preventative effects
We know by now that oranges bring a hefty dose of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that helps to combat the formation of cancer causing free radicals. (1)
Adequate vitamin C consumption is vital: however, the amount necessary to consume as a therapy for cancer is more than we can consume. Current estimates suggest that the vitamin C of 300 oranges daily would be needed!
According to one study, regular orange consumption during the first two years of an infant’s life may reduce the likelihood of their developing leukemia. (2)
Alongside this, high levels of pectin (fibre from fruits) and other fibres from fruits and vegetables have been associated with a decreased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
They keep your heart nice and healthy
Your heart health is supported by the vitamin C, potassium, choline and fibre found in oranges. (3)
Along with aiding in keeping down your blood pressure, increased potassium consumption – alongside a decrease in sodium consumption – is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
High dietary potassium intake is also associated with prevention of muscle wastage, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in kidney stone formation.
They can help to prevent strokes and lower blood pressure
There is a compound found in citrus fruits like oranges and lemons that may lower the risk of ischemic strokes in women, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Those who ate the highest amounts of citrus fruits in a recent study had their risk of ischemic strokes lowered by 19% compared to those who ate the least. (4)
Most of us know that keeping your sodium levels low is essential in keeping blood pressure down. However, potassium intake is just as important in maintaining healthy blood pressure due to its effects as a vasodilator.
Keeping your veins and arteries suitably dilated means that blood passage is much easier, thus keeping pressure down.
They protect against diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes benefit hugely from the sort of high fibre diets that become available with the introduction of fruits like oranges. Studies have shown that diabetics on a high fibre diet will on average have lower blood glucose levels. (5)
Those suffering with type 2 diabetes may see improved blood sugar, lipid and insulin levels from a high fibre diet.
Consumption of oranges is a great form of skincare
Oranges can help you maintain healthy skin. (6)
This comes down to their vitamin C content once again. As it is an antioxidant, when eaten in its natural form (as with orange consumption), vitamin C can help to fight the damage caused to the skin by external factors such as sunlight and pollution.
It can also reduce wrinkles and improve skin texture as vitamin C plays a central role in collagen formation.
Should you juice your orange or eat it whole?
Who doesn’t love a glass of refreshing, sweet OJ, especially when the weather is on the warmer side?
Orange juice does contain some of the benefits of eating oranges whole and can be largely nutritionally similar. However, there are some important differences that you will need to bear in mind. (7)
The main thing to concern yourself with is the trade-off between fibre and sugar.
A glass of orange juice has much less fibre in it and around twice the calories – most of which are from fruit sugar. The main thing to concern you here is the sugar debt – how much sugar is there compared to the micronutrient value of the foodstuff in question.
With OJ, it’s an awful lot higher than with fresh, whole fruit. For this reason alone, orange juice should not be considered a like-for-like replacement to the whole fruit.
This being said, both are great sources of vitamin C which, as we have seen, is one of the main nutrients responsible for oranges being so good for you.
However, juice would be even higher in healthy micronutrients were so much not lost during processing and storage. Here, DIY might be a better option.
Shop bought orange juice can have significantly less vitamin C and folate than home-pressed orange juice and can often not be healthful as it seems, as I’ll go into in more detail below.
Pasteurised orange juice can lack around a quarter of its original antioxidant activity straight after heat processing, whilst after a month of storage it will have lost over 50%.
So, if you do want to go with juice, it’s always better to make it yourself and drink it fresh.
Orange buyer’s guide
What to look for
Oranges that are heavy for their size and firm will be your best bet- they will contain the best flesh and the most juice. You will want oranges with brightly coloured, smooth skin, avoiding any that have wrinkled, blemished skin.
Good quality oranges should be available all year, though they will be their best in the winter months.
Different ways to buy
Aside from eating oranges whole and fresh, there are many uses we can put them to and many ways of enjoying them.
Though they are obviously healthier eaten whole, and there are some things to bear in mind when buying orange juice from the shops (see below) orange juice is a nutritious and tasty drink and a lovely accompaniment to any meal.
The classic – orange jam. You can buy it plain or else seasoned with spices like nutmeg and cloves. Perfect to spread on your toast or English muffins on a cold winter’s morning.
Orange tea is a popular and tasty drink, traditionally used for treatment of stomach issues and as an appetiser. You can buy it ready-made, or else add some orange zest to any blend of loose tea you like.
Orange zest and peel
You can zest your own oranges, grating off part of the fragrant skin for use as flavouring, or buy it from the supermarket. You can bake it into cakes, freeze it into ice cubes to flavour cold water, or else grind it down with water as a great face mask.
Natural citrus cleaner
Natural citrus cleaner is made with orange rinds and vinegar and will leave your house smelling wonderfully fragrant after use. You can buy it online or in natural stores, or simply make it yourself.
Orange pomanders and potpourri
Orange rinds are often added to seasonal decorations to add a little fragrance.
Festive, Christmassy potpourri, with oranges and cinnamon sticks, will leave your house smelling incredible, whilst bags of pomander left about the place or hung on hooks will bring a crisp freshness that you’ll love.
Why “fresh” orange juice from the store isn’t what it appears to be
After fresh oranges are squeezed, the juice is kept in large tanks and its oxygen content is removed, allowing it to keep for up to a year without spoiling.
However, this liquid is then quite flavourless, tasting nothing like the ‘fresh’ OJ that we know and love. Orange juice producers therefore re-flavour this liquid, employing flavour and fragrance companies to engineer ‘flavour packs’ to put back into the de-oxygenated juice.
These packs do not need to be listed as ingredients on the orange juice cartons because they are derived from orange oil and essence, and so are technically still ‘orange’.
That being said, these flavour packs are not what you might call ‘natural’.
They usually include large amounts of ethyl butyrate, which is a chemical that forms a part of freshly squeezed oranges’ juice. Other markets call for flavours formed by chemicals such as the valencine, all mixed to give each brand its own distinct taste.
Of course, containing all of these chemicals isn’t automatically an issue – everything, after all, is chemical. However, the oblique nature of the additions: the fact that you don’t know what each brand is using – is cause for alarm.
I would therefore suggest that you either eat your oranges whole, juice them yourself, or buy from a vendor that juices them fresh.
Should you consider organic oranges?
There are some differences between organic and non-organic oranges. Of course, organic oranges are more expensive, but this is arguably very much worth it when considering the differences in the environmental impact of organic fruits.
Organic oranges are grown in environments free from chemical interference, which use no growth hormones or pesticides. They use natural methods to protect against disease and pests, natural composts and manures as fertiliser, and never use chemical fungicides or herbicides.
This means that the natural environment in which they are grown suffers more limited interference by the farming process, as groundwater, soil and wildlife remain untainted by unnatural chemical presence.
However, there is less benefit to eating organic oranges over non-organic than you might experience with other fruits and vegetables. The peel is a natural barrier, meaning that the chemicals used in non-organic farming don’t reach the fleshy part that you eat. Organic and non-organic oranges share the same nutritional values.
Orange storage tips
There are a couple of ways of going about storing your oranges.
To begin with, it might make most sense to store them in a refrigerator, as they preserve better and longer at cooler temperatures. Storing them in the fridge will help you keep them fresher for longer.
Using mesh – or any other well-ventilated bag – to keep them in will stop them from going mouldy, developing lesions or softening.
Rotate them regularly to maintain air flow, and you should expect them to keep for anything up to a month by storing them in this way.
Alternatively, keep them in your fruit bowl – my favourite option, just because it looks nice and I eat them too quickly for them to get the chance to go off! They will last you for up to a week at room temperature if you bought them relatively fresh.
Try putting the fruit bowl in the fridge at night if you want them to last a little longer.
Whichever way you decide to store them, keep them dry. Damp oranges go mouldy a lot quicker than dry ones. If you buy some oranges that are damp, with water droplets on their skin, towel dry them before storing and they will be OK.
Here are a few favorites from around the Web:
Orange, carrot and ginger juice
It wouldn’t be a proper list of orange-based recipes without at least one juice.
This orange, carrot and ginger juice is refreshing and warm, with healthful key ingredients juiced together to give you a delicious, immune boosting drink.
You won’t need a juicer to make this juice either, so no fear if you’re down on your gadgets – you just need a fine sieve and a little time to make it.
Vegan orange chocolate cake
Who doesn’t like orange and chocolate? It’s not just for Terry…you can enjoy this classic combo too!
This vegan orange chocolate cake is delicious and moist, filled with deep chocolaty notes that are nonetheless lifted by the fragrant orange than runs through it all.
My mouth is watering at the thought.
Vegan orange, turmeric and almond cake
Because whoever said you could have too much cake? Or chocolate? Or orange?
Treat yourself to this orange, turmeric and almond cake – you really should. Almond and orange is one of my all-time favourite combinations, and the depth given to them both with the earthy turmeric works wonders.
Orange creamsicle smoothie
This orange smoothie is bright and delicious, giving you the extra vitamin kick that we all need from time to time.
Made with orange and banana blended together with almond milk, ice and vanilla extract, it tastes like what the creator calls an ‘orange creamsicle.’
The banana’s creaminess layers over the citrus’ bite, all brought together with the floral orange and vanilla.
DIY orange liqueur
Come on, let’s have a bit of booze.
Orange and cocktails go together brilliantly: if you fancy something a bit special, this homemade orange liqueur should hit the spot. Made with orange peel and cloves, it’s fragrant and sweet (whilst the brandy and vodka gives it a real kick!)
Can you grow oranges at home?
You can, and though it’s challenging in colder climates, it can be very rewarding – as Louis XIV well knew. All you need to start is a pip from your next orange, a little soil and the following advice:
Wash your seed in tepid water. The fresher they are from the orange the better, so do it quite soon after eating. Create drainage holes in a container and then fill it with sterile potting soil. Plant your seed about a centimetre under the soil and water until the earth is moist – don’t overwater to the point of saturation.
Cover the container with some form of plastic covering. Tarpaulin works well for larger containers, whilst smaller ones suit a plastic bag. Leave the container in a warm place and keep checking to make sure that the soil is moist enough. If it looks a little dry, just add some more water.
You won’t need to store the container in sunlight and keeping it in front of a source of heat like a radiator or storage heater won’t work as it will dry the soil out too much.
When the seed sprouts, it is ready to be uncovered and moved into sunlight. If you need to, move the seed and soil to a more permanent pot. Keep it moist and in sunshine, nice and warm, and the rest should take care of itself – your orange tree is on its way!
How orange fibre could become a sustainable material
Finally, orange fibre could soon be commonplace as a workable, sustainable fabric.
Fabric company Orange Fibre make a patented material using citrus juice by-products, making silken cellulose yarn that can be blended in with other materials. (8)
The increase we have seen over the past half century in food processing, as agriculture becomes more efficient and populations rise, has been accompanied by a rise in non-edible by-products. Rather than seeing these natural resources thrown away wasted, Orange Fibre have grasped an opportunity to repurpose it into a fabric.
This material is versatile and high quality. In its pure form, it is soft and incredibly lightweight, and can be made to a range of sheens and opacities.
They claim that their ‘efforts are inspired by beauty, quality and the opportunity to provide an innovative and sustainable textile’ for the fashion and garment industries.
It’s all straight from nature too – if they can pull it off, it’s an impressive feat, and may just show us a glimpse of our future.
And so now we come to the end of my Orange 101. I hope that this article has covered everything you need to know about these tasty little citruses. You should now have a good idea of their benefits, and of ways of incorporating them into your diet and everyday lifestyle, and you should know how to grow them if you’re feeling green-fingered.
They have earned their status as a healthy staple in modern and traditional diets due in no small part to their vitamin C content. The vitamins and fibre they deliver, their antioxidant nature contents and the ubiquity with which they are grown and sold make them a perfect, low cost addition to any fruit bowl.
I’ve included some of my favourite orange recipes in this article, but you will always be able to adapt your own and look elsewhere for more inspiration. However you decide to incorporate oranges into your diet, please feel free to let us know what works best for you.
Don’t forget to share your thoughts and recipes in the comment section below.
About The Author:
James Dixon lives, works, and trains in Glasgow, Scotland.
He is an active freelance health and fitness writer, fully qualified personal trainer and veggie athlete. He holds several black belts and is currently training in both strength/barbell athletics and kickboxing. He has had an interest in animal welfare all his life, having been raised vegetarian, and has trained numerous athletes on plant based diets to great effect in recent years. Writing on vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and training is a passion for him.
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- Megan Ware, RDN, L.D. | What to know about oranges | https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/272782
- Marilyn L. Kwan, Gladys Block, Steve Selvin, Stacy Month, Patricia A. Buffler | Food Consumption by Children and the Risk of Childhood Acute Leukemia | https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/160/11/1098/142422
- Jessie Szalay | Oranges: Facts About the Vibrant Citrus Fruit | livescience.com/45057-oranges-nutrition-facts.html
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- Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD | Is Orange Juice Good or Bad for You? | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/orange-juice
- Orange Fiber | Sustainable Fabrics From Citrus Juice By-Products | http://orangefiber.it/en/