Oranges are one of the most ubiquitous crops in the world, grown throughout Asia, the Mediterranean, Africa, and both South and North America.
The United States and Brazil are the world’s leading producers; most U.S. grown fruit is consumed domestically, while the bulk of Brazil’s output is exported.
In the United States, top orange growing states are California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona. Florida continues to sustain major losses due to citrus greening; the disease has not materially affected California groves as of yet. Sunshine State production is divided between Valencia and Navel orange varieties.
Oranges are believed to have originated from a wild variety in the Southern China/Northern India region, although these cultivars can no longer be found. Originally valued for medicinal purposes, oranges were brought to the Mediterranean region by Italian traders in the 1400s, then introduced around the globe by Portuguese explorers.
The Spanish brought oranges to South America and to missions in Arizona and California, and the French brought them to what is now Louisiana. In the 1800s, orange groves were planted in Florida to much success.
Types & Varieties
The bulk of U.S. orange crops consist of three main varieties: the Washington Navel, the Valencia, and the Hamlin, which are complemented by several other varieties such as the ‘Pineapple,’ Homosassa, and Queen.
The Washington Navel has a thick, easy-to-peel rind and is easy to segment, making it one of the most popular eating oranges. It is not, however, a good variety for processing into juice, as a higher limonene content makes it bitter.
Valencia oranges are smaller and juicier than Washingtons, with a thinner rind, and are popular for juice with few seeds. Valencias can also produce two overlapping crops each year.
The Hamlin is similar to the Valencia—juicy and flavorful, but with lighter color fruit and juice. It’s seedless and also popular for juicing. ‘Pineapple oranges’ are a seedy, middle of the season variety with rich color and flavor, and Queens are similar, but hardier and able to withstand cooler and more dry temperatures.
Blood oranges, so named for their red flesh and strong flavor, continue to gain popularity. They are grown selectively in Florida, but most are produced in the Mediterranean region.
Another specialty orange is the bergamot, which looks more like a lemon or lime, and has an aromatic floral scent. Especially popular in Italy, bergamots are gaining favor with U.S. chefs.