Most people think of orange only as a fruit or fruit juice, but the plant also offers a variety of culinary uses as a spice.
Oranges growing on tree
|Species:||Citrus sinensis, citrus aurantium.|
Uncertain, probably Southern Asia.
As with most citrus fruits, the history of the orange is uncertain. Until recently it was though that the orange tree was of Chinese origin, but it is now generally believed that oranges originate from North or North-Eastern India. The first oranges were brought to Europe by the Moors (probably in the 9th century) and grown in the Arab territories in Sicily and Spain (Andalucia). These oranges were not the sweet varieties commonly known today, but bitter oranges (also known as sour oranges, or Seville oranges after the city of Sevilla). Sweet oranges were introduced 500 years later, probably by Portuguese traders. Blood oranges were first grown in Sicily 150 years ago from plants imported from China. Although not difficult to cultivate, they are not grown commercially elsewhere.
Fruit peel (pericarp). The fruit juice is also a valuable food additive. Candied or jellied orange peel (orange succade) is prepared from the thick-skinned bitter orange, a closely related species. Extracts and distillates of orange blossoms play an important role in the perfume industry but have little culinary use. Orange blossom water or neroli water is an aqueous distillate used to flavour sweets and drinks.
Rutaceae (citrus family).
The peel is strongly aromatic with a pleasant, sweet odour but a bitter taste. The fruit juice is mild, balanced sweet-sour. Orange blossom water does not resemble orange juice and has a strong fragrance that is generally found very pleasant.
Most names of orange in European tongues ultimately derive from the Sanskrit nagaruka or naranga which was transmitted via Arabic and Persian. The Sanskrit name originated from another tongue, possibly the Dravidian root "fragrant" as suggested by the Tamil nagarukam "sweet orange" and nari "fragrance". Most names for "orange" in modern languages of North India are also similar to the Sanskrit term, e.g. Hindi and Urdu narangi.
Although Spanish naranja "orange" and Greek neratzi "bitter orange" preserved the original sounds, most European languages modified the Sanskrit name. It lost its initial "n" (Italian arancia), then changed the initial vowel under the influence of the French word or "gold" to become the English "orange". Portuguese laranja belongs to that series of changes, together with Japanese orenji.
The association with gold is also found in Greek chrisomilia, which literally means "golden apple" corresponding to Old Greek chrysos "gold" and mēlon "apple". The same expression in Latin, pomum aurantium "golden apple", lies behind many names for bitter orange, e.g. German pomeranze and Russian pomeranets. In some Slavonic languages the use of the adjective "sweet" turns the bitter orange into the common variety, e.g. Slovenian sladka pomaranča.
The former botanical species name aurantium related to aurum "gold", whereas the modern species name sinensis is from the Latin Sina "China". Many names in tongues of Northern Europe mean "Chinese apple", e.g. Latvian apelsīns and Icelandic appelsína. Note also the Dutch sinaasappel "China-apple".
Some South-East European tongues name the fruit after Portugal, which was formerly the main source of imports of sweet oranges. Examples are Bulgarian portokal, Greek portokali and Georgian phortokhali. In Southern Italian dialects, orange is named portogallo, literally "the Portuguese ones". Related names are also found in non-European languages, e.g. Arabic burtuqal and Farsi porteghal.
For the derivation of the botanical genus name citrus, see the entry for lemon.
Orange is cultivated as a fruit and a source of juice world-wide, wherever the climate permits. Orange also has an important use as a flavouring for sweet and salty foods with three different parts of the plant used as a spice, namely orange blossoms, orange juice and orange zest (the outermost, orange-coloured layer of the peel). The three have different flavours and cannot be interchanged.
Most important is the grated pericarp (peel) which is popular in European sweets and cakes and also finds application in meat and fish dishes. Care must be taken not to use in excess as this makes dishes taste perfumed and bitter. In Provence, the spice mixture bouquet garni is usually enhanced with a piece of orange peel (often bitter orange which has a finer flavour).
In the Far East, orange is rarely used as a spice. Some Chinese recipes use orange pulp, juice and zest to flavour meats, typically combined with hot chillies and Sichuan pepper. An example is au larm, a spicy beef stew from the highlands of Sichuan. Coarsely cubed beef is simmered in a little water for two or three hours together with star anise, slices of fresh ginger and orange peel. Half an hour before serving, soy sauce is added together with crushed Sichuan pepper and black pepper briefly fried in a little oil.
Chinese master sauces are often flavoured with fresh or dried orange peel. Tangerine peel is part of the Japanese spice mixture shichimi tōgarashi and this can be substituted by orange peel although the latter is slightly more bitter.
Orange blossom water ma zahr "flower water" is a fragrant product made by distilling (bitter) orange buds and flowers. It is most popular in North Africa and Western Asia, where it is mostly used for salads and very sweet desserts. In Lebanon, it is diluted with water and sugared to yield a digestive qahwa baida "white coffee". This can be used as a substitute for rose water in European sweets and its unique fragrance also gives an unusual touch to fruit drinks, syrups and ice cream.
Bitter orange is important as the source of jellied orange peel which is an important ingredient of many European cakes. It enjoys high popularity in Britain in the form of marmalade, a jam made from bitter orange fruit. Another British specialty containing bitter orange is the famous "Cumberland sauce", the recipe for which originates from the 18th century. Finely chopped bitter orange peel, orange juice, red wine and various fruit jellies are mixed together and salt, black pepper and pungent mustard paste are added to taste. The spicy and fruity tasting sauce fits perfectly to venison.
British cooks sometimes use orange juice as a flavouring for meat stews, particularly venison. There are also Cantonese recipes using orange juice as the basis of sweet-sour sauces for stir-fried meat and Latin American cuisine often uses the acidic juice of bitter oranges. Orange is commonly employed in Caribbean and Brazil recipes and enjoys its greatest popularity in the Maya cooking of the Mexican Yucatan peninsula.
Essential oils extracted from bitter orange are sold as oil of neroli (distilled from the blossoms), oil of petitgrain (from the leaves) or oil of orange (from the pericarp) but only the fragrance of the latter is typically orange-like. These extracted oils are mostly used by the perfume industry.
Bergamot orange (a relation of bitter orange) has an extremely aromatic fruit peel rarely used for cooking, but famous as the aroma associated with the British specialty tea, Earl Grey. This fruit should not be confused with the plant known as bergamot, unrelated to orange and a close relative of lemon balm.