I love how you can tell whenever someone is eating an orange, even if you can’t even see them. It’s the gorgeously perfumed spray of orange oil released from the peel that gives the game away; an instant room freshener. Another reason I like oranges is because a boy I liked at school liked them too. He never showed any interest, yet my love affair with all things citrus remains.
And speaking of school, I remember being most impressed with mums (or dads) that peeled the skin from an orange in one continuous length but left it on so it could be artfully unfurled without the bother of getting peel under the fingernails. That’s love! It’s a pity oranges fall down the hierarchy of lunchbox fruit because of the mess-factor, but I guess that’s why mandarins do so well- they skin practically falls off leaving plump juicy segments there for the taking. But oranges are really worth the effort, especially if it’s someone else’s: thanks to all the mums and dads still peeling them for their kids, or slicing them into quarters for the fun of orange teeth!
Oranges have an aura of healthiness: there’s a reason orange quarters are the preferred half-time snack during team sport. They’re juicy for rehydration and refreshment, a little sweet for an energy boost, low GI to keep the energy going, and packed with good stuff like vitamin C, fibre to make them filling, potassium, folate and over 170 different types of phytochemicals that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. Studies have shown diets containing citrus fruits are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, and some cancers. Emerging research suggest citrus phytochemicals may also protect and maintain brain function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Although probably most famous for juice, this is not the healthiest way to eat oranges because you miss out on the satisfaction and digestive health benefits of the fibre. Try to eat whole oranges more than juice, and enjoy the juice in small quantities. Try diluting it with cool water – still or sparkling – for the best refreshment, perhaps with a crushed mint leaf for some extra aromatherapy.
Another idea is to make a “crushie” or smoothie by pureeing the whole peeled fruit with ice and adding other seasonal fruits and vegetables such as custard apple, passionfruit, kiwi or strawberries.
And of course while we usually discard orange skin, it is a precious resource worth using. The valuable part is the coloured zest (the white pith can be bitter) which is where the fragrant and phytochemical-rich oil and pigment are found, and can be removed using a citrus zester, or a fine grater. Remove the zest before you slice or peel them so it’s easy to remove; it doesn’t affect the flavour inside (however it will spoil your game of orange teeth). Add the zest to cool drinks, hot tea, baking, soups, stews, tagines, risotto, stir-fries and pilaffs- anything where fresh, citrus flavour partners well. If you can’t use the zest right away, mix with a little water and freeze in ice cube trays to use later. The other delicious and decadent ways of eating citrus skin are marmalade and cakes where you boil up the whole orange skin and all (see Anneka’s fabulous recipe below, and her Gluten-free Mandarin Roasted Almond Cakes in the September 2013 issue).
Oranges are simple, traditional and hardworking and perhaps this is the reason why oranges are so quick to be pipped at the post of the fruit fashion stakes. When food is so plentiful and our choices so numerous, our palates become fickle. Apparently, the next up and coming member of the citrus family hails from Japan: the Yuzu is forecast to be the next hot ingredient in restaurant and foodie circles. But I’m more frump than fashionista when it comes to food – give me good old fashioned, locally grown oranges and life tastes (and smells) great. Buon appetito!