Everyone knows about oranges, right? They are the edible citrus fruit of choice over much of the planet. But what is often ignored is the sheer variety of oranges out there, providing a wide pallet of flavors, with some varieties better for juice, others for eating and others for incorporation into desserts.
I was surprised when I first came to Taiwan that the fresh orange juice that I got at a stall in the traditional market tasted very different from what I was used to in Australia. It took me quite a while to get used to it, with its thinner, sharper flavor. But now I find these ubiquitous oranges, designated in Taiwan as liuding (柳丁), to be just perfect for almost any application. In season, they are extremely cheap and delicious, and do not share some of the main disadvantages of imported oranges.
Oranges imported from the US or South America, the main international producers of oranges, are probably still the major source of oranges in Taiwan, but many of these have been treated to ensure that they remain attractive after their long journey from abroad.
Oranges may undergo cleaning with detergent, “de-greening” with ethylene gas and may even be dyed to improve their orange color. Wax polish is often used to reduce moisture loss, and the substances used for this are regarded by some as being less than beneficial for health, with some recommending that waxed orange rind not be consumed even after scrubbing. As someone who loves to use the zest and rind of citrus fruit, this is a major concern, and buying good quality local products gets around the worst of these problems.
The liuding orange sold in Taiwan has a skin that is often mottled with orange, yellow and green, but don’t be put off by this. They don’t have the bright sheen of navel or Valencia oranges, nor do they produce the same deeply flavored juice. They are not particularly easy to peel either. These are all minor disadvantages to be embraced in the name of supporting local farmers producing fruit that have not been ruthlessly tampered with in the name of marketability.
It is generally thought that oranges originated in China as their scientific name Citrus sinensis makes clear. Historical records suggest that they were originally cultivated primarily for the rind and the fragrant oils that it contains. Our ancestors clearly realized that the rind of the orange was where its most essential flavor resided, something we have forgotten in our modern rush to rapid consumption.
The sweet orange such as liuding, Valencia and navel are all part of an extensive network of hybrids that stem from the cross breeding of the mandarin orange and the pomelo. The mandarin orange, which are particularly popular over the Lunar New Year period, have a distinctively different flavor profile, and in the kitchen are not universally interchangeable with sweet oranges.
The health benefits provided by oranges are almost too numerous to mention, the most universally acknowledged being its richness in Vitamin C. In fact, studies have shown that a glass of juice is superior to taking Vitamin C supplements, probably due to other complex antioxidant compounds contained in the fruit. As with other fruit and vegetables that I have looked at in this column, it seems that nature’s bounty is virtually always better than even the most elaborate attempts to replicate its benefits in more convenient or marketable forms. Just eat an orange, local and naturally grown, and be content that you are doing yourself and the world more good than harm.