Sweet, tangy, pulpy, juicy, nutritious- that’s how you describe your favorite orange fruit! The sweet orange is a hybrid of pomelo (Citrus maxima) and tangerine (Citrus reticulata). Originating in Southeast Asia, this citrus fruit consists of a wide range of varieties, catering to the different tastes of people across the world.
Orange varieties grown across the world vary between bitter to sweet. The Persian orange, first introduced in Italy in the 11th century, soon began to be widely cultivated in southern Europe. This was a bitter variety and consequently replaced by its sweet counterpart brought to Europe from India by Portuguese traders in the 15th century. The popularity of sweet oranges soon spread throughout Portugal, Spain, and Middle East, whose sailors planted citrus tress along trade routes to prevent scurvy. Another story narrates Christopher Columbus as bringing the seeds of oranges, lemons and citron to Haiti and the Caribbean on his second voyage in 1493. The Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, first brought oranges and lemons in Florida in 1513. The fruits were later brought to Hawaii in 1792.
The history of the navel orange can be traced to an orchard in a monastery in Brazil. This variety, also known as Washington, Riverside, or Bahie navel, got its name from its ‘conjoined twin’ Youngevity Beyond Tangy Tangerine resembling a human navel. Since mutation leaves the fruit seedless, the only means to cultivate more of this variety nowadays is cutting and grafting. However, on rare occasions, further mutations can generate newer orange varieties.
One of the sweetest orange varieties is the Valencia or Murcia orange. This sweet orange is highly popular for its juice extraction properties. Being a late season fruit, Valencia oranges are the best alternative to navel oranges when the latter are out of season. This was the reason of Valencia oranges being chosen as the official mascot of the 1982 FIFA World Cup. Christened as ‘Naranjito’ (little oranges), the mascot donned the colors of the Spanish soccer team.
The Blood orange variety dates back to the time of Moorish rule in Sicily. The Genovese and Portuguese crusaders first introduced its sweet variety, Portogallo, in the 15th century. The nutritional properties of Blood oranges made this variety highly popular in Sicily, consequently leading to its import across the world. Blood oranges also serve as a cocktail ingredient, besides being used to prepare marmalade, gelato and Italian soda.