Fruit of the Month: Blood Orange
Blood Orange (Citrus Sinensis)
Feast your eyes on the most luscious, crimson, and juicy mutation the Citrus genus has ever experienced. The blood orange is our fruit of the month. It ripens in Southern California from mid-December through April.
Background and History
Blood oranges came about from a mutation of blonde oranges (Valencias, Navels) and are a variety of the common sweet orange. The first instance of mutation is believed to occur in China. There is also evidence of early mutations in Italy. Italy now has the largest blood orange market in the world; they make up 60% of Sicily’s oranges. They are significant mostly in the Italian, North African, and Spanish markets. Blood oranges are relatively new to Southern California’s citrus repertoire, coming on the scene in the 1870’s. The demand for blood oranges in California has fluctuated but are still widely grown and enjoyed.
Types and Characteristics
In California, the main varieties of blood oranges are Moro, Sanguinello, and Tarocco. All three varieties are native to the Mediterranean, which allows the trees to flourish here in such a similar climate. 90% of blood oranges grown in California are Moros. They have very few seeds, are easy to peel, and are sweeter than most oranges. Blood oranges are rich in vitamin C, potassium, carotene, and dietary fiber. The deep burgundy color of the flesh is from the chemical anthocyanin, which causes pigmentation in other plants such as berries, grapes, and pansies. Anthocyanin is completely tasteless and odorless and only affects the color not the taste of the fruit. Anthocyanin is high in antioxidants, helps to lower LDL cholesterol, and protects the body against cancer and diabetes. The deeper the color of the blood orange, the higher the anthocyanin level.
Harvesting and Storage
Blood oranges usually grow in clusters of three or more. When harvesting, it is beneficial to use a pulley pruner or clippers to take off clusters. The longer the fruit is left on the tree, the more anthocyanin will develop, but if left on the tree too long, (into late spring/summer) the flavor will diminish. Blood oranges are delicious when juiced but should be consumed within a week to taste the full flavor. They have not made it into the mainstream market because of their poor storage quality.
Propagating and Care
The tree itself is quite vigorous and continuously productive. Trees should be planted in an area with full sun, particularly for when the temperature starts to drop. Blood oranges thrive with warm days and cool nights. They appreciate semi-frequent, deep watering and it is always advantageous to mulch the base of the tree to increase water retention.
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