Oranges - history, production, trade

The orange (Citrus x sinensis ) is a fruit tree of the Citrus species in the family Rutaceae, whose fruit is the orange. It is sometimes called also sweet orange, in order to distinguish it from the bitter orange species (Citrus aurantium L.), used mainly in the food industry to prepare pastry products or to produce liqueurs, such as the Curaçao. The orange is a hybrid coming by crossbreeding the pomelo and the mandarin, but it grows as an independent species since centuries.
The orange tree (Citrus aurantium subsp. Dulce) can reach the height of 12 metres, has fleshy, long, dark green and glossy leaves that embellish the branches also thanks to very beautiful snow white, scented five-petal-flowers. The sprouts are always green, never reddish and the skin is slightly rough. In some cultivar the branches might be thorny.
The orange blossoms are white and scented: they can grow singularly or in groups of 6 for each bloom. The blooming takes place in spring, while the fruits ripen during the following autumn or winter. Sometimes the fruits of the previous year can still be on the plant during the following year blooming.
The fruits of the orange tree do not ripen after being harvested: they have to be left on the plant until they reach the desired grade of ripeness.
Where the climate is tropical the fruits stay green and, in order to make them orange, they are treated with ethylene, a gas that is also an hormone working in their maturation.
The orange tree is quite resistant to drought, but it requires plentiful water to achieve the maximum production.
It can be drafted on bitter orange, volkamer lemon and trifoliate orange (especially for plants in vases and in areas with low winter temperatures.
Fruits are round and are made of an exocarp (flavedo) that is orange when fruits are completely ripe. Then there is a white, spongy mesocarp (albedo) which is slightly bitter. The edible part is the endocarp, fleshy and juicy, divided in 8-12 slices with few seeds. The annual production for each plant of oranges can reach the amount of 500 fruits, according to the variety of oranges cultivated. The ripening period usually extends from November (for the early varieties), until May-June (for the latest varieties).
The orange tree needs to rest only for three months, therefore sometimes the tree can bloom still having fruits from the previous year.
Nowadays, the orange is the most widespread citrus fruit all over the world and hundreds of varieties are cultivated. Some fruits have a golden flesh (ovale, biondo comune, navel, Washington navel, etc.), others have a red flesh because of the anthocyanin pigments they contain (moro, tarocco, sanguinello), some are bigger and more beautiful, others are less beautiful and have a thinner skin, but are more juicy and therefore suitable to produce orange juice. Only in Italy, more than twenty varieties are cultivated to be eaten or to produce orange juice. Anyway, sweet oranges are consumed not only as fresh fruits, but also for the production of juice, above all blond oranges (during their processing, the skin, separated from the rest of the fruit, is used to extract its essential oil) and to a lower extent, also to produce candied oranges and dehydrated oranges.

The orange tree has its origins in China and in the Southeast of Asia: it was imported in Europe only in the XIV century. Even though this fruit has its origins in China, the word orange comes from the Arabic word narandj, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit nagarunga, which means “fruit loved by elefants”. According to the Greek mythology, Juno’s dowry, married to Zeus, was made of some small trees, whose fruits were very beautiful and golden, oranges and lemons, symbols of fertility.
Some ancient Roman texts talk about the orange already in the I century, even though it was not known with the name of orange, but was called “melarancia". This historical fact is confirmed by the finding of a plant of oranges in the courtyard of the convent of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill in Rome, built about in the 1200.
Furthermore, in 19th-centiry-literature, the orange was sometimes called portogallo. The sweet oranges were spread in Europe only in the XV century thanks to Portuguese sailors (this is where the dialectal term “purtuali” probably comes from), who developed the cultivation of this fruit very well, contributing to its diffusion significantly. It was Christophorus Columbus, who imported, after his second travel, the seeds of oranges, permitting their cultivation also in America. Louis XIV, who loved oranges as much as strawberries, had the very popular Versailles Orangerie built.
Oranges contain about 87% of water, few fats and proteins, a lot of minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, selenium and many other vitamins among which, apart from the known vitamin C, there are the vitamins A, B1 and B2. The citric acid contained in oranges has an important role in the human body: it reduces the urine acidity and avoids the formation of kidney stones.
Oranges are divided in two big groups:
- The pigmented oranges, such as the varieties tarocco, moro and sanguinello: they are ideal to be squeezed.
- The blond oranges, suche as the varieties navel, ovale and Valencia: they are great to be eaten.
Oranges have a lot of beneficial qualities: they are good against degenerative tumours (thanks to the presence of many antioxidants) and are helpful against angina pectoris, bronchitis, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, gum disease, obesity, migraine, headache, rheumatisms, stomatitis.
Furthermore, oranges have anticancer properties. The consumption of oranges, as a fruit or of its juice, represents a simple way to add a natural defence to our health system.
Oranges, as food, are a genuine and healthy supplement, because of their lightness and of their extraordinary richness in useful substances that provide for the daily expenditure of energy. Oranges, which are depurative, anti-inflammatory, have a strong filling power, flatten your belly and help control hunger. Apart from eating oranges as a fruit alone or in fruit salads, they are also great together with vegetables to prepare unusual draining salads. Oranges in fact, have only 34 Kcal per 100 grammes, and are therefore perfect in low-calorie-diets. One hundred grammes of oranges (edible part) contain 87 grammes of water, about 8 grammes of carbohydrates, 1.6 of fibres, 0.7 of proteins and few fats (0.2 g).
They are also loved for their content of ascorbic acid.
The orange is also a typical ingredient of jams and the skin of oranges is used to extract essences: from their skin the famous orange essential oil or the Portugal essence is extracted. It is a liquid, whose colour ranges from yellow-orange to dark red (varieties Tarocco and Sanguinello) that reminds of the scent of fresh orange skin and it is used to produce liqueurs or to flavour a lot of detergents.

In the pharmaceutical industry only the essential oil extracted from the pits of the skin is used for its flavouring qualities: the essence extracted from oranges is also used in the perfume industry to create scented water, shampoos, bubble baths, scented moisturizers and milk. Oranges are used also in herbal therapy for their antispasmodic and stomachic qualities.
Orange blossoms are used to create posies for weddings: they suggest the chastity and the pureness of the bride. The dried leaves of oranges are used as a mild sedative, diuretic and stomachic, while orange blossoms are used to treat mild insomnia.

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