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December, 2008

When Orange is Red

By Dennis Linden

While Blood Oranges are still considered a specialty citrus item in this country, they are the most prevalent citrus available in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, especially Italy and Sicily where the fruit is a major export crop. In fact, if you visit these countries it would be difficult to find the common Valencia or Navel orange varieties that we are used to in this country and don’t be surprised when a tall glass of tasty crimson juice is served at breakfast! Many believe the blood orange to be the tastiest of all orange varieties.

All blood oranges have very few seeds and, true to the name, a deep red pigmentation in the fruit as well as a scarlet blushed peel. The two most popular blood orange varieties are the Moro and the Tarocco. The Moro is the most solidly colored of the two, with dark burgundy fruit and a ruby orange rind. The flavor is stronger and the aroma is more intense than a Valencia orange. This variety has a distinct, sweet and tart flavor with just a hint of raspberry and is prized by chefs for its complex taste. The Tarocco is the sweeter of the two and considered the best for juicing. Its fruit is speckled with a light cherry pigmentation and a thin orange skin that is only faintly blushed with red tones. The California crop begins in November with the Moro, then transitions into the Tarocco, which Melissa’s markets under the trade name Volcano Oranges®.

The red pigment in blood oranges is caused by a powerful antioxidant called anthocyanin. It is what makes the red in cherries, apple skin and even flowers; however, the blood orange is the only citrus item to contain this beneficial molecule. Anthocyanin neutralizes the effects of free radical chemicals within the bodies of living organisms, which are the root cause of many ailments. Specifically, the antioxidants in blood oranges can help reduce the risks associated with age-related illnesses such as heart disease; some types of cancer and “bad” cholesterol build up. It also helps to prevent cataracts and supports the body's healing processes. All this in a brightly colored package of sweet fruit and juice!

The culinary range of the blood orange runs the gamut from delectable sauces, marinades and vinaigrettes to side dishes, desserts, refreshing drinks and cocktails. For centuries, dating back to the Romans, chefs have been using the color and taste of this unique fruit to accent an array of culinary creations, we have included a few here that show this fruit’s amazing versatility in the kitchen.