Oranges do not exist in the wild; they are products of cross breeding tangerines with the “Chinese grapefruit” the pomelo. They are the greatest grown quantity of citrus fruits around the world. The outer orange coloured skin is known as the epicarp while the spongy white mesocarp lies just beneath. The fleshy inner part is divided into ten or more segments, with very thin but hardy skins which contain the juicy pulp. The seeds or “pips” are also contained inside. The fruit forms from a single ovary and is thus considered to be a berry. Oranges are separated into two main groups, bitter and sweet. The sweet type is the most typically consumed variety.
History of Oranges
Oranges are believed to have originated in Southeast Asia, particularly in northeast India, southern China and Vietnam roughly 7000 years ago. The name ‘orange’ is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit work ‘Nāraṅgaḥ' and also the Telugu term ‘Naringa'. After having gone through different languages and modifications, the ultimate English name ‘orange’ developed. Historians believe that Chinese farmers set up orange orchards sometime around the 1st century, when nobility showed fondness for the fruit, competition between cultivators led to production of larger better tasting oranges.
Persian traders who traded with India and Ceylon introduced the fruit to the Roman Empire, where they become popular with the military and nobility. Around the first century A.D, Romans established the very first orange orchard in North Africa. Oranges produced there mostly shipped to Mediterranean countries. Soon orchards spread from Libya to Morocco.
The decline of the Roman Empire in the sixth century led to a decline in the orange industry also. When the Islamic Caliphate took over North Africa in the seventh century, trade routes to Mediterranean countries were shut down and new markets established in the Middle East taking oranges with them. By the eleventh century, the orange trade in Europe revived with growers using seeds of Persian oranges imported from Spain and Morocco to grow better varieties.
Portuguese traders introduced the fruit to Europe around 1500, where it was mainly used for medicinal purposes. However, it was adopted for the personal consumption of wealthy individuals who cultivated it in private conservatories and called them ‘orangeries’. By 1646 the fruit was well publicized and well known.
Spanish explorers introduced oranges to America by the middle of the fifteenth century. Its cultivation was started in Cananeia, on an island off Sao Paulo near Brazil. It is believed that Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer planted the first orange in North America in St. Augustine, Florida. Today Brazil is among the leading orange producer, accounting for one third of total world production.
Health Benefits of Oranges
In addition to vitamins and minerals, oranges contain a large number of flavonoids and phytonutrients making them a very nutritious and healthy fruit. They contain a compound hesperidin which combines with magnesium to help decrease blood pressure. The same compound works with another compound in oranges called pectin and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) by not allowing the body to absorb fats which contribute to rising levels of LDL.
The anti-inflammatory properties in oranges provide relief from pain caused by inflammatory diseases like arthritis. The folate in oranges helps to keep sperm healthy in addition to helping with the proper development of a baby’s brain. Regular use or oranges helps to fight cancer of mouth, lung, skin and breast. D-limonene is the compound responsible for this.
There is an over abundant supply of vitamin C in oranges which helps in many ways. It stimulates the white blood cells to fight infectious diseases like colds and flu and builds a strong immune system, while the polyphenols offer protection against a number of viral infections. Working in conjunction with flavonoids, vitamin C also helps to reduce the risk of heart diseases by preventing the hardening of the arteries, like in arteriosclerosis. The presence of vitamin B6 helps to produce haemoglobin which is needed to carry oxygen to varying parts of the body.
Being rich in calcium means oranges are good for teeth and bone health. Oranges have high fibre content needed to keep the digestive system functioning properly. The fibre also works with folate and hesperidin in oranges to maintain the cardiovascular health. The formation of calcium oxalates lead to formation of kidney stones, but oranges contain a chemical compound citrate which binds with the calcium before the stones can be formed. Lastly, the large variety of antioxidants found in the fruit keeps the skin glowing and healthy.
While most people just discard orange peel, they too contain a large variety of flavonnones, and antioxidants. Oranges also contain natural histamine suppressing compounds, which prove to be beneficial during the allergy season.
Nutritional Value Oranges
The macronutrients found in oranges include one gram of protein, 0.2 grams of fat, 3 grams of dietary fibre, 12.2 grams of sugar, and 15.4 grams of carbohydrates in one 130 gram orange. The same sized orange also contains 70 milligrams of vitamin C, 0.11 milligrams of vitamin B1, 269 International Units of vitamin A, 39.7 mg of folate, 0.33 mg of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), 237.1 mg of potassium, 52.4 mg of calcium, 18 mg of phosphorous, 13 mg of m of magnesium, and 0.65 mg of selenium. Other than these, trace amounts copper, iron, sodium, sulphur, zinc and manganese are also found in oranges.
The white portion of the peel found under the orange skin is rich in vitamin C and pectin (a dietary fibre used as gelling agent). Oranges also contain 20 carotenoids with antioxidant properties which aid in averting blindness after the age of 65. There are 38 limonoids in oranges that are responsible for minimizing tumour formation. In total there are over 170 phytonutrients like glucarates, flavonoids, and terpenoids, in addition to the above mentioned carotenoids and limonoids.
Uses of Oranges
Other than eating them fresh, one of the most common uses of oranges is to squeeze fresh oranges and enjoy the juice. However, care needs to be taken as exposing the oranges to air reduces vitamin C content in them. It is best to consume the juice as soon as possible or to refrigerate it to preserve the vitamin content.
When oranges were initially cultivated, their peels were treasured as flavouring agents, and garnish. Even now the nutritional value of the peels can be employed in a large variety of methods.
- Natural Teeth Whitener: a cheap and natural method of whitening yellow stained teeth is to use orange peels. Just rub the inside of the peel over the teeth and watch the transformation. Contrary to popular belief, orange peels do not make teeth sensitive they actually help to prevent teeth sensitivity.
- Cleaning Agent: The inside of a fresh orange can be used to clean a dirty sink. Rub the inner portion of the peel against the sink to be cleaned. The oils act like natural cleaning agents to bring sparkle to dirty surfaces.
Make Candied Peels: Candied peel can be consumed out of hand, as garnish, in salads or in baked cakes, muffins and breads. They are easy to make, just follow the instructions below:
- Thoroughly wash an orange and using a peeler remove the zest of the orange. If a knife is being used avoid cutting the white pith with the orange zest.
- Cut the peel into thin, long match stick style slivers.
- Place the slivers in a saucepan of cold water and bring to boil for two minutes to remove some of the bitter taste. Strain and save the slivers.
- In a saucepan add a cup of water and half a cup of sugar and bring to boil over high heat, allowing the sugar to dissolve. If desired a vanilla pod may be added for enhanced flavor. Add the slivers of peel, allow to get coated with the syrup and turn down the heat, allowing the mixture to simmer for about 15 minutes or until soft and a translucent consistency is reached. Separate the candied slivers from any excess sugar syrup and allow to cool. Now your candied orange peel is ready to be used.
Oranges contain some not so well-known nutrients called limonoids. In human cells, citrus limonoids help fight skin, lung, mouth, breast, stomach and colon cancers. New details of these compounds are being discovered by scientists at the Agricultural Research Service in northern California. Additionally these scientists have uncovered that every time we bite into an orange or drink a glass of its juice, our bodies quickly retrieve one of the limonoids known as limonin. The scientists have found limonin to lower cholesterol. They found that in a laboratory, when limonin is exposed to human liver cells, they produce less apoB, a chemical related to higher levels of cholesterol.
Scientific studies show that diets containing fruits like oranges, which have high levels of vitamin C, face lower risks of developing cancers of the stomach, pancreas, larynx, oesophagus, mouth, cervix, colon and rectum, breast and lungs. It has further been noted in these studies that vitamin C supplements do not provide the same benefits as when it is received from fresh fruits and vegetables.