Of all the varieties of “sweet” oranges (Citrus sinensis), the Blood Orange stands out as my favorite. While oranges, in general, originate from China and are likely a hybrid between the Pomelo and the Tangerine, blood oranges originated as a mutation of the sweet orange. The origin of the Blood Orange is uncertain, either in Asia or the Southern Mediterranean. There are at least 15 named varieties of Blood orange, the most common being the Tarocco (native to Italy), the Sanguinello (native to Spain), and the Moro, the newest variety of the three. All are characterized by being somewhat smaller than an average sweet orange and by having a maroon pigmentation to the flesh both in streaks or fully coloring the flesh, and occasionally as in the case of the Moro, blushes of color on the rind. This pigmentation is due to the presence of anthocyanins, a family of pigments common to many flowers and fruit but uncommon in citrus fruits. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants. For this coloring to develop properly the fruit must be exposed to low night temperatures during ripening (as during the Mediterranean fall and winter). Blood oranges cultivated in the United States are in season from December to March (Texas), and from November to May (California).
The Moro, my favorite of the only three varieties I have tried, is the most colorful of all with deep ruby maroon flesh and abundant blushing of the skin. The flavor is stronger and the aroma is more intense than a normal orange. The fruit has a distinct, sweet flavor with a hint of raspberry, though a slight bite of bitterness makes it all the more intriguing. Being the newest of the varieties, the Moro variety is “believed to have originated at the beginning of the 19th century in the citrus-growing area around Lentini (in the Province of Siracusa in Sicily) as a bud mutation of the “Sanguinello Moscato”-Wiki.
Blood Oranges can be grown anywhere sweet oranges will thrive though probably will do best (color and ripen) in areas where Valencia grows as opposed to the more heat-loving Navel. Like all Citrus fruits, they are high in vitamin C, folate, calcium, and thiamine. A medium-sized (154g) orange also provides 28% of the recommended daily intake of dietary fiber.
My first encounter with Blood Oranges was while living in what was then known as “West Germany” in the 70s. It was so wonderful on those many grey cold northern European days to enjoy a piece of “exotic “ruby gold fruit from sunny Spain or Italy. Years later while living in the Northern Sierras a Moroccan friend shared the following simple recipe from his homeland with me:
Moroccan Blood Orange Slices
- Blood oranges
- Cinnamon powder
- Spearmint leaves
- Slice oranges.
- Place on freezer-proof plate
- Sprinkle with cinnamon and chopped mint leaves
- Place in freezer for approximately 1-2 hours (optional)