1 The History of Oranges
4 Business and Trade
5 Orange Juice
6 Blossom, Zest and Peel
7 The Poetry of Oranges
8 Art, Design and Culture
9 Health and Cookery
Websites and Associations
The History of Oranges
In a word, these trees charm the eye, satisfy the smell, gratify
the taste, serving both luxury and art, and presenting to
astonished man a union of all delights.
Giorgio Gallesio, Orange Culture: A Treatise on the
Citrus Family ()
Oranges may not be the only fruit, but they are one of
the most romantic. For centuries, they have captured the
imagination, beguiled with fiery golden hues and intoxi-
cating fragrance, and sensuously refreshed our palates, yet
their precise history remains as elusive and tantalizing as
One key theory by the botanist Walter T. Swingle held
that the proto-parents of the citrus family originated in the
New Guinea-Melanesia region before the continents of Asia
and Australia broke apart,
but its evolution into many different species took place
chiefly on the mainland of southeastern Asia. In fact, it
is only there that the most highly developed species of
Citrus can be considered as indigenous.
More recently, botanists David Mabberley and Andrew
Beattie have supported this view of the dispersal of the
earliest true species of citrus as ‘floating fruit’ on westward-
flowing equatorial currents millions of years ago. The focus
thus became ‘Monsoonia’, the mountainous parts of south-
ern China and northeast India where most commercial
species and cultivars originated. The Japanese botanist
T. Tanaka (–) narrowed this to northern Burma and
Assam, while the eminent scientist and sinophile Joseph
Needham (–) wrote:
There can be no manner of doubt that the original home
and habitat of these trees was on the eastern and south-
ern slopes of the Himalayan massif; a fact which is
reflected in the presence of the maximum number of old-
established varieties in the Chinese culture-area, as also in
the extreme antiquity of the Chinese literary references.
Later studies point to Yunnan, along with nearby areas
of India, Burma and southern China, as the primitive centres
With such profusion of growth and botanical develop-
ment, it was inevitable that seeds and trees would spread – by
bird, animal or man, sea or land. Routes were various, but
whether it was to be by way of southern India, Arabia and the
Nile or through Asia Minor, citrus was set to circle the world.
The earliest mention of oranges and their ‘congeners’ is
in the Yu Kung chapter on geo-botany in the Shu Ching (Book
of Historical Documents), which Needham says may date
back to the eighth or ninth century . Han Fei, a philosopher
from the second century , describes a much earlier dis-
course that contrasts the characteristics of oranges and thorny
lime bushes (sour trifoliate). It becomes a parable of the
Chinese porcelain vase
painted in underglaze
blue and overglazed
enamels on gilt, –
. In one decorative
panel a lady in a gar-
den is being offered a
citrus fruit by a richly
dressed young man.
care women need to take when choosing young men. Another
mention, in , discusses the etiquette of peeling an
orange at a princely court. Chü Lu ( The Orange Record),
written in by Han Yen-Chih, is the oldest known
monograph on the orange and describes varieties of sweet,
sour and mandarin oranges, including one which ‘tastes sweet
So, like Suzanne in the Leonard Cohen song, we feed on
tea and oranges that came all the way from China, although
the first fruit were often dry, thick-skinned and seedy. The
Chinese, however, readily became expert growers, their
horticultural skills sharpened by both cultural isolation and
favourable natural conditions. Increased demand plus better
communication between the provinces soon led to the large-
scale planting of commercial orchards. According to Needham,
‘It is safe to conclude that citrus fruits were being grown
industrially for market . . . for at least half a century before
people in Europe encountered the first of the group to
become known to them.’
Oranges were generally less valued for nourishment than
for aesthetic, medical or olfactory qualities, but they were also
preserved in honey or used to season vegetables, tea and wine.
Su Tung-p’o ( ) lyrically describes the gathering of
sweet oranges to make a wine that is ‘worthy of turquoize [ sic]
ladles, silver flagons, purple gauze, and green silk wrappers’.
His description of ‘a thousand yellow-headed slaves’ in the
groves of the wealthy still strikes a compelling note.
In India, a medical treatise c. was the first to
mention the fruit by a term we recognize today. Naranga or
narangi derives from the Sanskrit, originally meaning ‘per-
fume within’, but thereafter the word trail is long and winding.
Citrons were the first citrus fruit commonly known to the
classical world, but to what extent the Romans were also famil-
iar with oranges remains disputed. Samuel Tolkowsky argues
that they were grown, albeit for purely ornamental purposes.
As evidence, he points to a Pompeii mosaic that features ‘an
orange affected with a type of excrescence with which every
orange-grower is familiar’, and garlands of oranges on the
fourth-century mosaics in S. Constanza, Rome. Alfred C.
Andrews generally took the Tolkowsky line, albeit with reser-
vations, when he wrote,
It is also reasonable to assume that orange culture was
introduced into Lower Egypt about the beginning of
the Christian era, that shipments of the fruit were made
from this area to central Italy, and that attempts were
made to raise orange trees there.
On the other hand, L. Ramón-Laca notes that it is strik-
ing that there are no mentions of different citrus fruit until
the time of the Arabic authors: ‘This fact points directly to
the responsibility of the Muslims, except in the case of the
citron, for the main diffusion of the different citrus and its
subsequent introduction to the Mediterranean basin.’
After the Lombard invasion in , the luxurious
gardens of the Romans were largely wiped out. Citrus disap-
peared, except in some southern areas of the Mediterranean
world, until the Arabs revived the art of citriculture a few hun-
dred years later, bringing the bitter ‘Seville’ orange from Arabia
to North Africa and Spain along with Persian techniques of
cultivation, planting and irrigation. A story Tolkowsky tells
illustrates the profound love citrus held for the conquerors: in
Baghdad, a Caliph had a grove whose ‘interlaced branches
were loaded with red and yellow fruit glittering like stars’.
When deprived of his throne and blinded by his nephew, to
prevent the latter from enjoying the beautiful orchard, he
pretended to have buried treasure there. The nephew promptly
dug up all the trees.
Citrus held a special place in the Islamic soul, being loved
for its graceful form, the intensity of its evergreen leaves and
its hedonistic blossom. The flowers, fruit and leaves were also
used in medicine, gastronomy and the cosmetic arts. The
wood was fashioned into the most beautiful furniture; even
the twig ends were shredded and used as disposable tooth-
In turn, the Crusades created an interest in northern Europe
in exotic new produce brought back by the returning warriors
in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These included a
Babur, the first Mughal emperor, supervising the laying out of the Garden
of Fidelity outside Kabul, c. , opaque watercolour and gold on paper.
variety of sour orange called bigardia, and the bittersweet fruits must have seemed irresistible tokens of azure skies and soft
sunshine. Queen Eleanor of Castile, who would have grown
up knowing about citrus fruit, arrived in Acre in Israel in
for a two-year stay with her husband Edward . Years later,
she perhaps had a Proustian moment, buying fifteen lemons
and seven oranges from a Spanish ship in Portsmouth.
According to Barbara Santich, citrus had become reason-
ably common in Italy by the thirteenth century, although a
century later it was still novel enough in Prato for Francesco
Datini to have a large orange tree as a status symbol. In
Provence, Catherine de Medici gave her guests gifts of cit-
rons and oranges. By the end of the sixteenth century, Santich
notes, Swiss visitors to Perpignan and Barcelona marvelled at
the numbers of citrus trees in the streets, and were amazed
in Montpellier at the cheapness of oranges which people
threw at each other during Mardi Gras.
How the sweet Chinese orange arrived in Europe is uncer-
tain. The popular story is that João de Castro was the first
to bring a tree to Lisbon in the mid-sixteenth century, and
from this all others were cultivated. However, the first written
reference dates back to – a bill of sale from a trader in
Savona, now in Liguria, Italy, that mentions , sweet
oranges. In the account of Vasco da Gama’s voyage in
by Alvaro Velho, ‘fine’ orange trees are mentioned that are
‘better than those of Portugal’, but whether this means sweet
oranges were known earlier in Europe or not, is unclear.
Tolkowsky believed that they were, and argued that the
Talmudic expression ‘sweet citrons’ refers to sweet oranges.
He also quoted Platina who, in after a decade of work
on his manuscript, stated that sweet oranges are ‘almost
always suitable for the stomach as a first course and the tart
ones may be sweetened with sugar’. As further proof, he
Johann Walther, Branch of Orange Tree in Bloom, Oranges and Shells, ,
gouache on vellum.
Turkey. The name
of the fruit on the
stamp – portakal
– reflects the
in the journey
of the orange.
noted that Louis gave sweet oranges from Provence to St
Francis in as a gift ‘for the holy man who eats neither
fish nor meat’.
Horticulturalist Herbert John Webber, too, came down
on the side of an existing familiarity, suggesting that the sweet
orange reached Europe sometime in the early part of the
fifteenth century, probably through the commercial Genoese
trade routes from Arabia, Palestine and India.
If the sweet orange were at that time unknown to da
Gama, it would seem astonishing that he failed to describe
it as different from the known sorts. None of the travel-
ers of this epoch showed surprise at sight of this fruit, as
they did on seeing many others, from which it may be
deduced that they were already familiar with the sweet
orange and it was no longer a novelty.
The sixteenth-century Italian poet Andrea Navagero
described splendid sweet orange trees in the kitchen garden
of the king at Seville; and Webber noted that the historian-
monk Leandro Alberti referred to the sweet fruit of the
immense plantations of cultivated trees he saw in Sicily,
Calabria, Liguria and elsewhere in Italy in : ‘It is clearly
impossible that this extensive culture of the sweet orange in
Liguria at the beginning of the sixteenth century could have
come from the Portuguese importation, since that did not
take place earlier than the beginning of that century’ (perhaps
Whether these early ‘sweet’ oranges were actually sweet
or bittersweet will probably remain unclarified. The fact that
citrus fruit is generally known in Italy as agrumi (meaning sour
or tart fruit) points to the latter. However, Tolkowsky con-
tends that there was little distinction between sweet and sour
oranges in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries because they
were used as a condiment or medicinal agent, not as an eating
fruit. So it is perhaps possible that the Portuguese, post-Vasco
da Gama, only introduced a new – and better-tasting – variety
of sweet orange, not a new species. Nonetheless, it became
known as the ‘Portingall’ or Portugal orange, a term still echoed
In this British bowl from c. , a symbolic orange tree unites William
and Princess Anne of Hanover.
James Gillray, The Orangerie or the Dutch Cupid Reposing after the Fatigues of
Planting, . In this hand-coloured etching William , Prince of Orange,
is depicted as a fat, naked Cupid reclining on a platform of grass and
flowers. He is leaning on a bag of money marked ‘,, ducats’.
In the foreground are a number of orange trees, with each orange bearing
a likeness of the prince.
in the Greek word portokalo and the Turkish portakal, then
increasingly as the China orange.
The impact was immense. The Chinese had taken citri-
culture to new heights, as witnessed by the Jesuit missionary
Alvaro Semedo in : ‘The oranges of Canton might well
be queens over our own, in fact some people hold that they
are not so much oranges as muscat grapes disguised.’
But what of the link between the fruit and the French
town of the same name? Tolkowsky is categorical: ‘There is
no other connection than that which exists between any two
homonyms, namely a purely accidental similarity of sound.’
The town became the possession of the German William of
Nassau, Prince of Orange, who founded the Dutch Republic
and the House of Orange and adopted the colour. In turn,
Inevitably the fruit
as well as the colour
became a symbol
of the House of
evidenced by this
sculpture in the
market square of
the German town
this led to the naming of the Orange River in South Africa;
Cape Orange in Brazil; the Orangemen of Northern Ireland;
Orange, New Jersey; Orangeville; and more.
The connection between the fruit and the colour also has
its own story. An early Italian word for orange was melarancio
(fruit of the orange tree). From this came the Old French
orenge, adopted in turn by Middle English. According to the
Oxford English Dictionary, the words ‘orenge’ and ‘orange’
were first recorded in the fifteenth century; the colour orange
was usually referred to as ‘yellow-red’ or ‘tawny’ until the six-
teenth century, which saw the introduction of New World
pumpkins and Dutch ‘orange’ carrots. Mark Morton suggests
that a word for the colour was not necessary before then,
because ‘there weren’t many things in dreary medieval
England that actually needed to be described as orange’.
On his second voyage in , Columbus brought citrus
seeds to Haiti and the Caribbean. Robert Willard Hodgson
considers it likely that the Spanish took the bittersweet orange
to both Florida and South America, ‘for it was early found in
the former and occurs extensively in Paraguay where it com-
prises an important source of oil of petit grain’. Whatever
the species, the trees spread rapidly throughout the islands
and in Central and South America. One early visitor report-
ed that the oranges and lemons of Brazil were sweet and huge,
the size of two fists put together. The English poet Andrew
Marvell (‒) vividly described the trees in ‘Bermudas’
as ‘feral’ where ‘He hangs in shades the orange bright, / Like
golden lamps in a green night’. Soon, oranges and limes were
even being shipped back to Europe.
According to John F. Mariani, Hernando de Soto brought
the orange to St Augustine, Florida in . With the excep-
tion of a grower named Jesse Fish, who shipped an amazing
, oranges to England in , commercial plantings were
insignificant until , when the .. acquired Florida. By
, oranges were ubiquitous: a Dr Baldwin wrote,
You may eat oranges from morning to night at every
plantation along the shore [of the St Johns] while the
wild trees, bending with their golden fruit over the water,
present an enchanting appearance.
The orange reached California with the founding of the San
Diego Mission in , but the first grove of any consider-
able size was planted at the San Gabriel Mission in .
Citrus fruit soon became a key factor in promoting a life –
style image of sunshine and easy living to attract settlers to
Far away in the Dutch colony of Cape Town, oranges and
other fruit and vegetables were introduced from St Helena
by the colony’s first governor in , and in oranges
were taken to New South Wales with the colonists of the
Back in the Old World, Portuguese ports swarmed with
English traders; oranges were shipped in their tens of thou-
sands. In , Lord Burleigh owned a rare, single orange
tree; the same year, Sir Francis Carew brought a few from
France which he trained against a wall and sheltered with
boards and stoves in winter. Sir Walter Raleigh planted orange
Orange grove, St Johns River, Florida, . Once oranges were introduced
into Florida, the Spanish traded them with Native Americans. This led
to the spread of the naturalized trees along the river and inland. Some of
these feral oranges were later domesticated by American homesteaders who,
in turn, planted further groves.
Figure of an
from Nider viller,
France, c. –.
The asso ci ation of
oranges with buxom
wenches was readily
embraced by artists
seeds in Surrey; the trees began bearing regular crops in ,
but were killed by cold in .
John Houghton noted that in seventeenth-century
London oranges were ‘carried in the eye of all about the streets,
we see they are very much consumed by the ordinary people’.
Trans portation difficulties and rotting, however, prevented
their wider availability. Like many other products past their best,
they were sold cheaply in the capital either from ‘moveable
shops that run upon wheels, attended by ill-looking Fellows’
or by flirtatious orange-girls in London’s theatres, epito-
mized by the pretty, witty Nell Gwyn, the mistress of Charles
. As Thomas D’Urfey acidly pointed out in the prologue to
his play The Comical History of Don Quixote (), ‘The orange-
miss that here cajoled the Duke, / May sell her rotten ware
Samuel Pepys recounted in his diary in how Mrs
Jennings, a maid of honour, dressed as an orange wench to
the amusement of all until exposed by her expensive shoes
– although we don’t know if she also imitated the usual foul-
It became increasingly fashionable for the well-to-do of
Europe to grow the orange tree even though its hardiness was
doubtful, hence Pepys’s comment on the ‘brave’ orange and
lemon trees in Lord Wotton’s garden two years later. Buying
costly imports or, better still, having the time, skill and space
to grow your own was an expensive and competitive game of
one-upmanship. It would result in some of the most extra –
ordinary pieces of garden architecture ever built. Especially
if you were the king of France.
Seville may be said to be still . . . the rendezvous of the most
picturesque blackguards in the south of Spain . . . [who]
know of heaven what they see of it through the golden juice
of an orange, as they lie on their backs in the cool shade,
a picture of contentment and sweet idleness.
John Lomas, ed., O’Shea’s Guide to Spain and
Portugal (London, )
Oranges, like jewels, need a setting. Nature provided the back –
cloth of glossy, jade leaves; it was left to man to construct
Citrus cultivation both challenges and inspires. Garden
design fused with horticultural function is a form of architec-
tural art that can be seen at its most elemental on Pantelleria,
off Sicily. The island has hot, dry summers with little rainfall;
strong winds prevent the trees from growing tall. The centuries-
old solution was to build striking lava-stone enclosures that act
as windshields, absorb night-time moisture, permit aeration
and support the soil.
The Arabs brought new crops, irrigation and land scap –
ing techniques to Al-Andalus, their state in parts of today’s
Spain, Portugal and France: groves of citrus marked their
Cathedral Mosque main entrance, as seen from the Los Naranjos patio in
advancing path for several centuries. Islamic gardens were
made for rest and contemplation. Shade and water were the
key elements that provided refuge from the hostile world
outside their walls. These geometric gardens – a form of para –
dise on earth – have both sensuality and intellectual precision.
The great fourteenth-century Arab traveller Ibn Battuta
described the courtyard of the principal mosque of Malaga
as having an ‘unequalled beauty [with] exceptionally tall orange
trees’; in Granada, there are still oranges and lemons in the
hanging gardens of the Generalife, the summer palace of the
Nasrid emirs. Citrus was everywhere. One can only daydream
on reading the words of Lorenzo Valla, an Italian humanist,
on a visit to Valencia in the fifteenth century, ‘The most
remarkable thing, there are gardens not only composed entire-
ly of citrus trees, but with walls of citrus, so that you ask
yourself whether these are gardens or rooms.’
This enchanting indoor-outdoor image is mirrored in
the words of poet and playwright Félix Arturo Lope de Vega
(‒). Writing about the Duke of Alba’s beautiful
garden at Abadía, he describes how the fruit grows in both
winter and summer,
And the more the mountain is white with snow,
The more it prides itself upon its everlasting treasure . . .
On the farther side, along the shining river,
There are lanes clothed with orange trees
And portals ingeniously wrought of them.
Tuscany, however, was the cradle of the new Renaissance
garden; in Florence, the fashion for collecting citrus trees
became all the rage among patricians and wealthy merchants.
Botticelli’s Primavera (), for example, depicts Giuliano de’
Medici (or possibly Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici)
posing somewhat self-consciously in an orange grove, the
very model of gilded youth.
The Medici created one of the greatest European citrus
gardens in at the Villa di Castello near Florence. The
orbs on their escutcheon have variously been interpreted as
pawnbrokers’ balls, apothecaries’ pills or, some say, oranges.
The garden was intended to reflect the power and status of the
family: a lunette painting of shows the imposing house
flanked by regimented rows of trees. The villa still boasts
hundreds of potted citrus varieties, few of which are now
grown commercially, including the rare – and brilliantly named
– bizzarria of Florence.
The plants would have struggled without indoor winter
quarters which ensured citrus could survive in the Little Ice
Age even as far north as the Italian Lakes. The tradition is
still to put out the pots when the mulberries come into leaf.
The first structures were fairly basic with the trees protected
by straw or wattle fences, but in due course heating, insulation
and ventilation improved. To remove and set up again enclo-
sures and roofs, however, was very expensive, so the art of
raising trees in boxes developed further.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Giovanni
Pontano published De hortis Hesperidum, which advised plant-
ing fruit in wheel-mounted boxes that could be moved to
shelter or positioned around banquet tables as a pick-your-
own-dessert. In , the English botanist John Parkinson
For that purpose, some keepe them in great square boxes,
and lift them to and fro by iron hooks on the sides, or
cause them to be rowled by trundels, or small wheeles
under them, to place them in a house or close gallery.
Detail of Mercury holding a wand to an orange tree, from Sandro Botticelli,
La Primavera, , tempera on wood. The painting shows Venus in the
centre of an orange grove that represents love and fertility.
Horticulturalists around Northern Europe went to
great lengths to protect their fragile trees. In the prosperous
town of Nuremberg, the silk merchant Johann Christoph
Volck amer (–) commissioned the three-volume
Nurem berg Hesperides with etchings based on the citrus fruit
he himself raised or had sent from Italy. He also described
the old wooden, winter Pomeranzen houses ( Pomeranze is the
German word for sour orange) with roofs insulated with straw
This impulse to grow citrus in unsuitable climates had a
curious parallel several centuries later during the Communist
rule of Hungary in the s. The authorities wanted a domes-
tic crop to replace expensive imported fruit, so trees were
planted in deep trenches on the south-facing slopes of Lake
Balaton with the notion of covering them completely in
winter. Alas, the project was spectacularly unsuccessful, but
it did inspire the name of a satirical political magazine, Magyar
Narancs (Hungarian Oranges).
In the seventeenth century new developments in Dutch
technology enabled the production of expanses of clear glass.
This changed the architectural scene dramatically, and the
buildings became increasingly ornate to reflect the exotic
plants they housed. Citrus trees were proof of wealth, and the
orangery a major status symbol in the homes of the European
Jan van der Goyen (‒), Oranje-stoove, engraving. In the th century,
systems of heating orangeries and cossseting the trees became ever more
elaborate, and an object of interest for aspirational householders.
The Orangery, Potsdam, Berlin, c. –.
rich and fashionable. Up to the nineteenth century their design
grew ever more ostentatious, flaunting fabulous fountains,
grottos and other fantastical features.
Oranges were a favourite decorative motif in interior
design: they proliferated across indoor garden scenes, friezes,
frescoes, bas relief and metal doors. The glazed terracotta
sculptures of the della Robbia family in Florence character-
istically used oranges and lemons as well as apples, nuts,
foliage and flowers.
After the French king Charles returned in from
his disastrous wars in Italy with an enthusiasm for the palaces
and gardens of that country, he employed a Neapolitan garden
designer to build a large orangery at the chateau of Amboise.
Soon after, François commissioned one for Blois. The
competition to build the biggest and the best had begun.
It all came down to money. Olivier de Serres (‒
), in a classic seventeenth-century treatise on French agri –
culture, pointedly wrote,
Oranges, citrons, lemons and other suchlike valuable
fruit trees flourish in any climate, provided one is ready
to incur the necessary expenditure . . . It is in truth a
sport for princes and noblemen to grow these excellent
trees in a climate that is contrary to their nature: a luxury,
therefore, that is more easily admired than copied.
Few, however, could ever aspire to equal the ne plus ultra
of orangeries, that of Versailles. Built by Jules Hardouin-
Mansart for Louis on plans submitted by André Le Nôtre,
it was conceived on an epic, money-no-object scale to project
an image of absolute monarchy; like the rest of the gardens,
it showcased the skills of the seventeenth-century’s greatest
artists and scientists. The king had a passion for citrus and his
gardeners developed techniques to obtain blossom year-
round. Waverley Root observed that the , orange trees in
silver tubs were for show rather than food since Louis, away
The orangery at Versailles, s–s, photographed by Francis Frith.
Jean-Baptiste Hilaire, Orange-picking, , pen and black ink, gouache and
watercolour . This picture depicts the Jardin du Roi, a Paris garden created
by Louis ’s doctor and opened to the public in .
at the wars, wrote to his minister, ‘Let me know what effect the
orange trees at Versailles are making.’ Pyramids of oranges,
apples and pears were à la mode as table decor.
The Versailles orangery took nearly ten years to build but
became the talk and envy of the aristocratic world, the venue
for garden parties and masked balls. Court historian André
Félibien described the heady setting in :
Their majesties would stroll through these highly scent-
ed, bosky thickets. Like a labyrinth, there were many
pathways – one lined with ‘Portuguese’ oranges, anoth-
er with bitter orange and cherry trees. Others were bor-
dered by apricots and peaches, Dutch redcurrants and
different sorts of pear trees.
Legend has it that one of the trees at Versailles dated
back nearly years to a cutting originally sent by the queen
of Navarre to Queen Anne of Bretagne. It was known as the
Grand Bourbon and continued to blossom and bear fruit until
its death in . In winter, the orangery still houses more
than , trees in traditional Versailles planters with hinged
sides; from May to October, they are put outdoors in the
The orangery at the Schönbrunn in Vienna rivals Versailles
in size. Built in , it was more than a Baroque winter home
for potted plants: the trees were illuminated as a setting for
spectacular royal parties and imperial festivities. The German
town of Oranienbaum (where a bronze orange tree in the
marketplace symbolizes the House of Orange) also boasts
one of the longest orangeries in Europe.
In , the Saxon Elector August the Strong had plans
for a voluptuous new dream palace in Dresden. He began
with the lavish, decadent orangery, named Zwinger because of
its location. It included a theatre, waterfall, Nymphenbad (a
fountain surrounded by statues of nymphs), swimming pool
and banqueting space to give guests the impression that they
were dining and dancing in the middle of an orange grove. The
trees were housed in ornate blue-and-white Ming pots.
However, August ran out of funds and after his death in
plans were scaled down and the complex was only completed
around a century later.
It was a bitter end – and all for the love of an orange.
The orange tree rivals all for beauty; no other quite has its
captivating combination of glamorous green leaves, glow –
ing fruit and wax-white star-shaped flowers with extravagant
scent. They can live for up to a century and produce hundreds
of fruits, but orange trees are sub-tropical plants requiring
warmth to survive, no frost and large amounts of water.
Depending on the variety, the fruits can remain for some
time on the tree once mature, but will not ripen any further
Citrus belongs to the rue family ( Rutaceae) and, botanically,
the fruit is a berry called a hesperidium, but the problem is
trying to determine exactly what is being defined. It is the
most confusing of fruit. Partly this is to do with its misty
history, partly to do with language and taxonomy, and partly
to do with the wide and intricate range of species and varieties,
spontaneous mutations, cultivated hybrids and crosses that
typify the clan.
There have been numerous attempts at classification. Two
of the most notable took opposing approaches: the Amer –
ican botanist Walter Tennyson Swingle lumped similar types
together and gave them one species name; T. Tanaka looked
at every slight variation and ‘split’ them into differently named
species. More recently, David Mabberley has gained wide
acceptance for a new classification of edible citrus into three
species: citron ( Citrus medica), merril pomelo ( C. maxima) and
blanco mandarin ( C. reticulata).
In this system, grapefruit ( C. paradisi) is a cross between
the pomelo and sweet orange; lemons ( C. limon) derive from
the citron and sour orange; and limes ( C. aurantifolia) appear
to be a hybrid of papeda, an Asian citrus fruit, and citron.
Pomelo crossed with mandarin produced both sour ( C. auran-
tium) and sweet oranges ( C. sinensis), each inheriting more
features of one parent than the other.
In , a Chinese team uncovered the genome sequence
of the sweet orange, a move they hope will improve citrus traits
such as colour, taste, yield and disease resistance.
Sour/Bitter Oranges ( C. aurantium)
The above terms are largely interchangeable, but strictly
speaking ‘sour’ refers to the acidity of the flesh, and ‘bitter’
to the essential oils. The trees are compact and upright with
long, dark green leaves and in appropriate conditions have an
extraordinary ability to survive with no care at all. Some trees
in Spain are said to be over years old.
Typically, the blossom is highly aromatic and the fruit
radiant red-orange with thick, dimpled skin, a large petiole
(leafstalk), abundant seeds and an astringent taste. It is used as
a rootstock as well as in marmalade. The principal variety
grown is the Seville. In Japan and China it is known as daidai
and taitai respectively and has a more dwarfish habit. High in
pectin, it is the citrus of choice for marmalade, and the
supply comes almost totally from Spain around February each
year. Oddly, it seems almost impossible to buy bitter oranges
Vincenzo Leonardi, Sour Orange, Flowering Twigs and Fruits, , watercolour.
in Seville itself, the principal producing area, although I have
picked them from the roadside.
In the nineteenth century, varieties of bitter orange
were described in Europe. Today, the most prominent sub-
species are the bergamot, grown in Calabria for the rind oil
used in perfume, Earl Grey tea and candied peel, and the
myrtle leaf or chinotto, traditionally crystallized whole in
Provençal towns such as Apt, and used in the Italian soda of
that name as well as in Campari.
Intriguing relatives include bizzarria (an eye-catching bi-
colour, intermingling or ‘chimera’ of bitter orange and either
lemon or citron); the bouquetier types (used in neroli oils
and perfumes); corniculata (with a strange, raised ‘horn’); and
fasciata (striped yellow and orange).
The Seville is also called bigarade in French, a name that
overlaps with another variety, the bittersweet ( C. aurantium
var. bigaradia), which lives up to its name and is notable for its
lack of acidity.
Bergamot oranges with peeled skin. The pith and peel of the bergamot is
particularly thick and the latter yields a spicy-sweet essential oil much used
Sweet Oranges ( C. sinensis)
The capo of the citrus family. No other is so widely grown
and used except, arguably, in the Far East where mandarins still
rule. It is the second most commonly cultivated fruit in the
world, eclipsed only by the banana. The plant scientist Robert
Willard Hodgson divided the category into four: common,
sugar/acidless, navel and blood.
There are scores of major and minor ‘common’ oranges,
new and old. It seems a rather belittling name, although they
also used to be (and sometimes still are) referred to as white
or blonde to distinguish them from the blood orange.
The Valencia is the world’s most important commercial
orange, with large, vigorous trees suitable for a wide range of
climates and soils. Late to mature, the prolific, thin-skinned
fruit is virtually seedless (although a seeded variety is grown
in Brazil and Australia) and lives up to its nickname, ‘The
King of Juice Oranges’.
The variety probably came into Portuguese possession
from China via the Azores. An English nurseryman, Thomas
Rivers, catalogued it in under the name Excelsior, and
subsequently supplied trees to clients in California and Florida.
The name Valencia is misleading: the fruit does not originate
in Valencia, Spain, as is commonly assumed, but was named
in its new home of California when it was deemed to resem-
ble a late-maturing Old World orange by a homesick Spanish
visitor. The fruit became known as both Hart’s tardiff and
Valencia late, and then simply Valencia.
There are many sweet varieties, including hamlin (possi-
bly the world’s principal variety of very early maturing juice
orange); harward late (New Zealand); kona (introduced to
Hawaii in ), midknight (from South Africa); Parson Brown
(an ‘early’ Florida juice orange); pera (a widely grown Brazilian
Oranges for sale at a street market in Rio, Brazil. In Brazil and other tropical
countries, some oranges are ripe despite their green or greenish-yellow
colour. The heat preserves the chlorophyll like a natural sunscreen, but in
more temperate regions, the green skin turns orange when the weather cools.
Arabs and Jews packing oranges together in Rehovoth, Israel, –.
fruit); pineapple (grown in Florida for its fine juice); and salus-
tiana (a comparatively new Spanish variety discovered in a
The shamouti, Palestine Jaffa or Cyprus oval originated
around near Jaffa, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It
was a limb sport or mutation of the local, seedy beledi strain.
The thick, leathery rind peels easily to reveal brilliant, seedless
flesh with a succulent flavour. Orange exports grew from
, oranges in to million by . In , around
, wooden crates were imported into Britain where they
gave their name to the little chocolate and orange sponge
cakes still popular today. The orange gardens have disappeared
but in the alleyways of Jaffa, there is a striking sculpture by the
Israeli environmental artist, Ran Morin, called Orange Suspendu,
which makes the connection between the city, the land and
the fruit. Israeli producers have sold shamouti budwood to
Spanish growers who can use the Jaffa name (which is an
Israeli trademark) for this fruit. The trademark also covers
other citrus and orange varieties: I have also bought Jaffa
oranges grown in South Africa.
Shiranui (or dekopon) is one of the newest citrus kids on
the block. The fruit is large, easy to peel and seedless with a
distinctive ‘topknot’ that gives it its American name, sumo (in
Brazil they are called kinsei). Developed as a Japanese tangor-
mandarin hybrid, they have a persuasive aroma and a melting
texture but the ridiculously expensive one I tasted in New
York on their debut there had a saccharine sweetness.
Although the skin looks thick and tough, it quickly bruises, so
the fruit is marketed in padded boxes.
These oranges lack acid and have an insipid, sugary flavour
enjoyed in many Arabic-speaking countries, and to a certain
extent in Spain, Portugal and Italy. As a consequence they are
still cultivated locally to some degree, but not exported.
Vainiglia is pink-fleshed, juicy, sweet and slightly bitter.
Large and easy to peel, navel oranges have an excellent fla –
vour; the juice is delicious when freshly squeezed but, unlike
that of the Valencia, quickly becomes bitter. In Hesperides, a
seventeenth-century compendium of , citrus varieties,
the Jesuit priest Giovanni Battista Ferrarius observed: ‘This
orange imitates to some extent the fertility of the tree which
bears it in that it struggles, though unsuccessfully, to produce
the fruit upon itself.’ The description effectively encapsulates
‘ – A Carload of Mammoth Navel Oranges from California’, c. ,
the embryonic fruit-within-a-fruit and protruding ‘navel’ that
is its essential characteristic.
There are many varieties, but the most well known is the
Washington or Bahia navel; its origins are unclear but it is
most likely a cross-bud variation from the Brazilian variety
known as selecta. In the nineteenth century, a Presbyterian mis-
sionary sent twelve nursery-sized trees to the Department
of Agriculture () in Washington where they were propa-
gated under glass. Offered to anyone who cared to give them
a go, a few were supplied to Eliza Tibbets in the new colony
of Riverside, California. She tended the trees carefully, reput-
edly using dishwater to keep them alive, and they were to
become the founding fruit of the state’s industry. By ,
Riverside was the wealthiest city per capita in the ..
Remarkably, one of the trees was transplanted to its
present location in downtown Riverside, where it survives in
defiance of all passing traffic. Its job was done: the semi-arid
climatic conditions of the area led to a fruit of superior
Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree, Riverside, c. . Now a national
landmark, the tree is one of two that were originally given to Eliza Tibbets
in , propagated from trees imported from Bahia, and from which all
Washington Navel oranges in California descended.
quality and rapid commercialization, although most of the
citrus groves have now relocated to the Central Valley, where
land is cheaper and water more readily available.
Contemporary varieties include cara cara (a very sweet,
pink-red fleshed navel discovered in Venezuela); fukumoto
(introduced into California from Japan); lane late (a late-
maturing Australian fruit); navelate (paler than Washington
with a less prominent navel); and navelina (an early-maturing
fruit mostly grown in Spain), plus a whole raft of more
recent late-maturing navel orange selections from Australia.
A couple of Californian companies such as LoBue Citrus
and Sky Valley continue to grow heirloom navel oranges on
trees planted in the s. They have an excellent flavour, but
are limited in supply.
A romantic but unlikely story links blood oranges with the
Crusades; more probably the thorny trees were a seven-
teenth-century mutation originating in Sicily and, possibly,
Malta. James Saunt suggests, however, that they are, like
navel oranges, indigenous to China. In , scientists iden-
tified the anthocyanin pigment gene (nicknamed Ruby) that
makes blood oranges ‘bloody’. The pigment is associated
with cardiovascular health, but only comes out in the fruit’s
flesh when grown in places with extremes of sun and cold.
Certain areas of Sicily provide just the right conditions – and
researchers also found evidence that one blood orange variety
arose independently in China.
Wherever, and however, they originate – heaven, perhaps
– they are the most captivating of fruit. Their aesthetic shadings
are marvels of natural beauty, matched by an equally distinctive
fragrance and ambrosial berry taste. Part of their allure and
fascination is the fact that each one displays slightly different,
marbled combinations of skin, flesh and juice pigmentation
and colouring. The variations are endless, even from fruit from
the same tree, picked on the same day.
‘Sanguine’, a languorous Jacques Prévert poem, alludes
to the inherent sexual appeal of the fruit but, more prosaically,
in the past their lack of uniformity has meant they have not
fitted the standardization demanded by the mass market.
Thankfully, the Arancia Rossa di Sicilia is protected bt the
Sliced blood orange. The Arancia Rossa di Sicilia have protected geographical
status. They are utterly delicious and also boast the highest vitamin C content
of all oranges in the world.
and comprises three varieties that can only be grown in a
strictly limited area south of Mount Etna: sanguinello, moro
Sanguinello is an ancient variety with two derivatives,
sanguinello moscata (also known as Paterno after the near-
by town) and sanguinello moscata cuscuna. Moro has the
flavours of ripe cherry and passion fruit and pulp of a strik-
ing hue that can vary from scarlet to burgundy or almost
black. The Sicilian tarocco is, in my view, arguably the world’s
finest orange; the distinctive colour of the flesh is a natural
mutation that needs a chilly winter to develop properly, but
it has a perfect blend of raspberry-rich sweetness and acid-
ity. It is sold under the name Volcano Oranges® in the ..
Blood oranges are also grown in California, Texas and Florida
– although whether their quality matches the Italian is a matter
Other varieties include sanguinelli (a seedy, dark Spanish
blood orange that is a derivative of doblefina, once the prin-
cipal blood orange in Spain) and Maltaise sanguine (Cape Bon,
near Tunis, is said to produce fruit of the highest quality –
Saunt agrees with the French, who call this semi-blood variety
‘Queen of Oranges’).
Citrus fruits are almost wantonly promiscuous: they repro-
duce easily with each other and many crosses and mutations
are known, both natural and man-made, within genera as
well as species. In some cases, they are self-pollinating and
are also able to produce fruit and fertile seed without sexual
Citrus has always inspired the experimental. The desire
to cross, breed and create new forms combines the sense of
divine creation with empirical curiosity. There are constant
surprises, as it does not always breed true from seed. The
most effective way to ensure consistency is by grafting the
selected scion onto a rootstock, a technique that has been
around since ancient times. The Geoponica, a tenth-century
Byzantine farming manual, includes instructions on how
to make citrons black or red by grafting onto apple and
mulberry trees respectively, and how to form them into the
shape of birds, animals or human faces. Perhaps best not
taken too literally, it also suggests making apples red by urinat-
ing on the tree . . .
The introduction of grafting into commercial planting
in the mid- to late nineteenth century was a way of prevent-
ing disease as well as improving quality. The sour orange
was the favoured rootstock until the outbreak of the tristeza
virus. Modern innovations include in vitro grafting (grafting a shoot tip from a mature plant onto a seedling rootstock).
Commercial breeders aim for improved yield, better
storage qualities, attractive appearance and tastier flavours,
but the goal of another group, often amateurs, is to produce
a frost-hardy citrus plant with sweet, edible fruit. It is said
that such growers usually start with Poncirus trifoliata, a decid-
uous, cold-resistant citrus relative, and invariably fail in their
endeavours. Nature still rules, .
Various hybrids have become fully fledged members of
the citrus family. Tangors are a mandarin (tangerine) and
sweet orange cross, with varieties such as temple, dweet,
Ellendale, umatilla and murcott. The latter has such thin
peel, it is clipped, rather than pulled, from the tree. Juicy
and complex with a pockmarked skin and brief season,
temples are believed to have come from the West Indies to
Florida early in the twentieth century. Ortaniques, some-
times called honey tangerines, are natural tangors, reputedly
found on Jamaica around . Mineolas are often thought
by the public to be oranges, although they are a cross between
tangerines and grapefruit: the offspring provide a good illus-
tration of how cross-breeding can produce an unexpectedly
rich, tart and aromatic result.
The naming of hybrids is as romantic and alluring as the
complexity of the fruit itself. Ambersweet is part orange,
clementine, mandarin and grapefruit; volkamer a lemon-sour
orange hybrid that originated in Italy. Chironja is a sweet
orange and grapefruit cross found as a wild seedling in Puerto
Rico, eaten like a grapefruit but sweeter and brighter. Citrange
is a cross between a sweet orange and Poncirus trifoliata: when
crossed in turn with a kumquat, the result is the magnificent-
ly named citrangequat – one can see why the whole business
soon becomes so bewitching and bewildering.
Citrology can become a magnificent obsession. In his time
at the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, Huang Ah-hsien
developed around different varieties, but his last project
before retirement in was to breed the world’s largest
orange – The King. It is said to weigh g on average, and is
as wide as your face. It is seemingly more mega-mandarin
than supersized orange, but it has nonetheless gained its
creator, known by his students as the ‘God of Citrus’, a place
in citrus history.
Business and Trade
Oranges have circled the world in the wake of wars, conquest,
trade and botanical quests. The market is still dominated by
the established producers, but new orange-growing countries
are springing up from Swaziland to Cuba. Citrus commerce
may be founded on a gift from the gods, but business is
business. And oranges are big business, indeed.
For centuries, scarcity and cost restricted them to the
households of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The two main
factors that brought the fruit within reach of the middle, then
the working classes were the development of steam power
and the invention of artificial refrigeration.
The American fashion for citrus in the nineteenth century
spurred the export of oranges from Sicily’s legendary Conca
d’Oro valley, a move that was intriguingly bound up with the
history of the Mafia. In the mid-s, according to John
Dickie, ‘an astonishing . million cases of Italian citrus fruit
arrived in New York every year, most of them from Palermo’.
The California and Florida citrus industries, however,
were soon to speed ahead as trade was boosted by the build-
ing of the railroads, improved shipping, new agricultural and
plant-breeding techniques, irrigation advances and innova-
tive marketing ideas – not to mention sheer, hard labour.
A train comes through the orange groves in Florida, –. The coming
of the railroads was crucial to the rapid development of the citrus industry,
enabling growers to send fruit quickly and efficiently across the country.
In , the Wolfskill orchards sent the first train carrying
nothing but oranges from California to the East Coast, but
as the century came to a close, the Californian industry faced
major problems: a land boom, oversupply, domination by
the railroad powers and pest blight. The growers could not
afford to destroy the orchards, but they couldn’t stop the
fruit ripening either. To gain more bargaining power, they
set up co-operatives such as the California Fruit Growers
Exchange (). The problem was that they either had to
find a way of storing the fruit or make people eat more.
Advertis ing was the answer, and in the process of building
mass consumption of this ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ fruit, they also
sold California as the quintessential sunshine state.
Business boomed, helped by an increased awareness of
nutrition; oranges were sold as a cure for all ills. By the end
of the s, Californian citrus farmers earned four times
the average American income. Riverside became a swanky
town of grand mansions and parks, and the expanded
Scenes among the orange growers in Orange County, Florida, , black
and white photoprint.
Orange Ball display at California Orange Week, c. . The annual festival
of the citrus industry was one of the social events of the year.
into a huge, vertically integrated industry with its own forests
to provide timber for the crates. They even had international
sales offices. In , they launched their own brand, Sunkist,
a first for fresh fruit, and poured money into marketing. The
catchphrase was ‘Oranges for Health, California for Wealth’.
Gradually, however, overproduction again became a prob-
lem. To regulate the price, ‘golden mountains’ of surplus
oranges were destroyed, a shocking act during the Depression
that was powerfully denounced by John Steinbeck in The Grapes
of Wrath ().
The mild, sunny climate of the West Coast suits the pro-
duction of navel oranges; by contrast, Valencias do better in
the sandy soil and hot, damp climate of Florida. Family juice
stands once flourished there like flocks of flamingos along
Freda Jones of Portland, Oregon, picking oranges, .
the state highways, especially in the Indian River region.
Thousands have disappeared since the s, victims of dis-
asters, diseases, commercial development and the pressures
of a big, globalized industry.
In the commercial golden age of citrus, the fruit was
packed in crates with brilliant labels or even individually
wrapped in coloured tissue paper. As oranges morphed from
luxury item to daily staple, taste became a lesser priority,
however, against the need for consistency, conformity and
good looks. Before long the model of co-operative settler
communities would be replaced by mega-corporations and
Developments in cold storage and maritime transport
enabled the southern hemisphere to enter the export market,
so the north could enjoy the classic fruit of winter year round.
Brazil, particularly the state of São Paulo, is the world’s largest
producer of oranges, most of which are processed for juice.
Per hectare, it is more profitable than coffee or wheat. Large-
scale production and logistics underpin the Brazilian success,
but the pressure for low costs has led to dubious practices in
the past. A study in found growers in Brazil (also Chile
and Ecuador) hired underage labourers to pick the oranges.
The situation did improve over the following decade, but a
further report in November recognized that although
Sparkman’s Orange Shop, Sumterville, Florida, s. Mom ’n’ pop
businesses offered fresh fruit and juice to tourists. The fruit could also
be shipped north as gift baskets.
former president Lula da Silva had made significant efforts
to reduce extreme poverty and child labour, ‘The issue still
remains urgent . . . Especially in the poorer northeastern part
of the country, many children have no choice but to become
integrated into the illegal job market.’
Not that adult workers necessarily fare much better. In
, Brazilian unions estimated that per cent of the ,
orange pickers in São Paulo earned less than the minimum
wage, and half did not receive legally required benefits. The
issue, however, is not unique to South America, and despite
experiments with picking machines (the drawback is they
can only be used on trees where the whole crop ripens simul-
taneously) hand-picking remains the best way to harvest,
particularly for table oranges.
An old slogan for the Florida Citrus Commission claimed
that ‘A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine’,
but in the land of opportunity the reality of agricultural labour
is often far from sunny. A poem of , ‘The Orange Picker’
by David Ignatow, is a disenchanted juxtaposition of the heraldic
orange banner of the groves seen from afar compared to the
hard, close-up reality of picking them – ‘these oranges have
failed me’. The campaigns by labour leader and civil rights
activist César Chávez led to numerous improvements for Latino
farmworkers in California, but the issue of illegal migrants,
victims of harsh conditions and substandard wages, remains
contentious as the recent documentary film La Cosecha (The
Harvest, ) forcibly demonstrated.
In , an investigation by a Florida newspaper found
migrant workers were paid only . cents per half-gallon of
fresh juice that typically retailed for $.. In the citrus groves,
as in many other parts of .. agriculture, it’s often a race to the
bottom for a cheaper production process, especially in an
industry squeezed by imports, increased costs and falling
Picking oranges, . In the early days of the industry, harvesters climbed
ladders and pulled the fruits off by hand, putting them into pails or shoulder
sacks. Clippers were introduced in .
demand. Balancing immigration controls and workers’ rights
with the need for labour remains a tricky goal.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers () argues that
there is a continuum of systematic abuse that ranges from
‘sweat shop’ conditions, including sub-poverty wages, no
right to overtime pay, and no right to organize, through to
‘modern-day slavery’ with captive farmworkers held against
their will through threats and even the actual use of violence.
Their travelling museum documents the appalling present-
day conditions of slave labourers: astonishingly, since the
mid-s more than , slaves have been freed in at least
six cases in Florida.
Equally, the point to the responsibility of agribusiness
in controlling the ‘demand’ side of the .. produce market,
the major food-buying corporations that profit from the
artificially-low cost of .. produce picked by workers in
sweatshop and, in the worst cases, slavery conditions.
Ultimately, those modern mega corporations must lever-
age their vast resources and market influence as major
produce buyers to clean up slavery and other labor abuses
in their supply chains once and for all.
A recent investigation into the squalid living conditions of
citrus workers in Calabria also alleged that African migrant
labourers were earning very low wages picking oranges
to supply juice concentrates to multinational companies.
The price of oranges was so low, it was reported, that many
farmers left their crops to rot on the tree.
There are other problems: frost at the wrong time of the
year, for example, can be seriously damaging. Burners or
‘smudge pots’ have been used to heat the groves on frosty
nights, and some growers use giant fans to mix the cold low
air with the warmer air above. Another method of heating is
to turn on the water sprinklers: as long as freezing water is
in contact with the fruit, its temperature cannot fall below
zero, since the water releases heat as it freezes. This works
for a short-lived cold snap, but if it stays below freezing, the
Florida Modern Slavery Museum truck. The museum consists of a cargo
truck outfitted as a replica of those involved in a st-century slavery
operation, developed in consultation with workers who have escaped from
forced labour conditions.
Oscar Lewis spraying the orange grove, Lakeland, Florida.
oranges will freeze too. Other strategies, according to the
University of Arizona, include covering small trees, stringing
the trees with lights and maintaining soil moisture, as well as
care in initial variety, rootstock and site selection.
Disease is also a constant concern: fruit flies can devas-
tate an industry, and ‘citrus greening’ spread by the Asian
citrus psyllid poses a particular nightmare scenario. The
disease, named after the sour, green, misshapen fruit it gives
rise to, has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops in
the .. and elsewhere. It entered Florida early in the twenty-
first century, and recent data showed that per cent of trees
were infected, with the rate doubling annually. Despite
strict controls and quarantine regulations, in March , the
deadly citrus disease was detected in Los Angeles County in
a residential neighbourhood, probably introduced via an ille-
gally imported bud. There is currently no confirmed cure to a
problem that has been described as akin to trying to get rid
of the mosquito, although the industry is pouring millions
Management and containment of the problem includes
constant inspection, removal of infected trees and control of
the insects, each no bigger than the head of a pin, which
spread the virus. As a result, some farmers douse their crops
with a heavy wash of pesticide or ‘nutritional spray programs’
which, Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas warn, could ‘turn the
environment into a poisonous morass’, and leaves infected
trees in place. On the other hand, some farmers believe that
higher crop yields have been an unexpected side benefit of
the enhanced foliar nutrition.
Chemicals may provide one remedy, but not every grower
wants to use more of them – and scientists are now rethink-
ing the efficacy of such a ‘scorched earth’ tree destruction
policy. One strategy has been to establish new varieties of
oranges and trees; scientists at Cornell are working on genet-
ically engineering a tree that shows resistance to the virus. In
Texas, work is advancing on genetic modification using
spinach genes. The University of Florida is evaluating silver
mulch as a shiny, visually disruptive control, and in California,
tiny, stingless parasitic wasps have been released into the envir –
onment as a natural enemy of the psyllid.
From the consumer’s standpoint, however, buying organ-
ic oranges is the best way to ensure that the fruit has been
cultivated without pesticides or dyes that match the fruit to our
mental image of the ideal orange. Fairtrade oranges offer a
small but fast-growing niche market: in South Africa, for
example, there are over twenty producers who grow certified
citrus. So, when in doubt, buy Fairtrade juice – or squeeze
your own from organic Fairtrade oranges.
The trade in oranges and orange juice is interlinked. We
take it for granted, but it was not always the case.
‘Is the orange juice fresh?’, I asked a waitress in a Liverpool
restaurant. ‘Oh, yes,’ she replied, ‘I’ve just opened the packet.’
It is easy to laugh at this story, and equally easy to iden-
tify with it. The orange is both a fruit to eat – and to drink.
Think fruit juice, think orange juice, and the word ‘fresh’ is
not far behind. It is the most popular processed juice in the
world, and although sales may have dipped in recent years
as a result of a slow economy, poor harvests, rising prices
and alternative options, many think breakfast sans is no
breakfast at all.
Writer and historian Margaret Visser describes drinking
the juice of a fruit as a quite different experience from that
of eating it: ‘[It is] the refined and luxurious essence of the
thing, produced by previously performed fastidious effort,
like de-boned chicken or strained consommé.’ Alas, such an
exquisite homage to the fruit of the Hesperides has been
lost in the thickets of urban Tetrapacks.
Orange juice has travelled a long way in every sense.
Constantly reinventing itself, it has gone from a product of
nature to a global industrial commodity, traded on the New
York Stock Exchange, and even shot into outer space as
juice on October
, the morning
after the midnight
Trade and Industry
Parkinson was to
be the father of his
Most commercial juices appear to tell a story that sug-
gest they’re nothing more than squeezed fruit poured into
the packet. Yet the mass-market product is standardized,
industrialized and globalized. Unlike the description by
John McPhee of how the colour of the fresh juice he
bought at Penn Station each morning deepened over the
seasons, the reality is a tale of technical wizardry and mar-
keting savvy. When it comes to the dark arts of advertising,
freshness is relative: the only truly fresh juice is the one you
A drop in the price of West Indian sugar in the seven-
teenth century opened up the consumption in Paris of
lemonade. Orangeade followed but was less popular, and
limonade became the general term for all drinks made of sugar
water and aromatic scents such as jasmine, mace, carnations
and orange blossom.
Always one to spot a trend, Pepys recorded how he drank
a pint of orange juice in : ‘they drink the juice as wine, with
sugar, and it is a very fine drink; but, it being new, I was doubt-
ful whether it might not do me hurt.’ A little later, another
popular drink, orgeat, made with almonds and orange-flower
water, became a favourite in eighteenth-century London
refreshment houses and pleasure gardens.
However, it was another years until the idea of mar-
keting orange juice commercially was put into practice – in
California. When growers facing a glut began to cut down
trees, Sunkist came up with the sensationally successful slogan
‘Drink an Orange’. Residue waste was used for by-products
such as cattle feed, but sales would never have grown without
other factors: efficient distribution by railroad and truck, the
increased perception of orange juice as nutritious and the
introduction of the flash pasteurization process to prolong
Full o’ Juice
early th century.
The bulk processed market, however, was really created
in Florida in the first half of the twentieth century, when
they began seriously to pulp, reduce and first can, then
freeze the plentiful fruit to sell year-round as (frozen
concentrate orange juice). It became hugely profitable, sub-
sequently spurred on also by the need to supply vitamin to
the troops in the thick of the Second World War.
Growers and producers had to deal with a very different
problem in the s, however, when severe frosts ruined
harvests. The Florida Department of Citrus decided to sup-
port the relatively new industry in Brazil to ensure a source
of supply. Growth was phenomenal: there may be an awful
lot of coffee in Brazil, but now there is an awful lot of orange
juice as well. Brazil is the world’s largest producer, and
most is exported.
Today, unless it expressly says so on the label, a carton of
Florida-packed juice is unlikely to have come from per
cent .. oranges. Concentrate juice will probably be a blend
of Floridian, Brazilian, Mexican and others. In , however,
there were signs that this situation was changing when PepsiCo
announced that it was returning to using only oranges from
Florida in its Tropicana Pure Premium juices. None the less,
for every five glasses of orange juice consumed worldwide, it
has been estimated that three are produced in Brazil, a figure
which is unlikely to change dramatically. As Saudi Arabia is
to oil, Brazil is to .
Brazil has succeeded through efficiency, extensive plant-
ing, technological know-how and integrated supply chains. In
the early s, the four biggest Brazilian processors acquired
plants in Florida. A decade later, they controlled nearly half the
processing capacity in the state. As Jason Clay has written, ‘The
expansion of the Brazilian orange processing industry into
Florida has been very calculating.’
In , the Brazilian citrus industry moved into
(Not From Concentrate) juice, a sector developed years ear-
lier in Florida. It was a sign of things to come. In Santos, São
Paolo, Citrosuco now operates the largest terminal in the
world, from which they export premium juice and bulk
(cheaper to transport as it takes up less space), as well
as one in Ghent, Belgium, which is the first in the world to
receive and distribute bulk aseptic . When the first ship-
ment was made in it was hailed as a new era in the ocean
transport of juice.
For over years, the Florida citrus industry was pro-
tected from overseas competition by financial barriers, but
the state’s Equalization Tax was discontinued in , and
in an anti-dumping challenge on .. tariff duties was
settled by the in favour of Brazil. A year later, however,
Florida Citrus Mutual, the country’s largest citrus grower
organi zation, filed a petition to reinstate the duty. Another
row broke out when Florida growers claimed that Brazil was
circumventing duty by shipping their product first to
Canada, then to the .. The year also saw a merger
approved between the giant Citrovita and Citrosuco groups
in a bid for them to become the world’s largest wholesale
supplier of orange juice.
The impact all this is likely to have on the Florida indus-
try is uncertain; some have predicted it will be crushed, others
that it will be hurt (especially small producers) but not
destroyed. Early in , global consumer confidence was
damaged by controversy surrounding the use of the fungi-
cide Carbendazim in exported Brazilian orange juice. The
fungicide is used in limited quantities in Europe, but the
.. banned its use in . Domestic juice producers in the ..
attempted to use the scare to their advantage but, as Brazilian
oranges make up around per cent of global exports, prices
sky-rocketed. In response to .. concerns, Brazil subse-
quently announced that it too was dropping use of the
chemical on its citrus crops.
The past decade has also seen a search for new and non-
saturated markets such as Asia, as a result of population
growth and increased prosperity, and the Middle East because
of their ban on alcohol. Poorer populations tend to drink
juice they squeeze themselves or simply to eat the whole fruit.
As incomes rise, they drink more concentrate, then more not-
from-concentrate – and ironically are likely to come full circle
by squeezing their own increasingly expensive but fresh
oranges. Or, rather, by having someone else squeeze the fruit
The juice-making process used to be perfectly straightfor-
ward. You cut and squeezed a fresh orange . . . so why has it
become so complicated and confusing?
Until the end of the nineteenth century, kitchen squeezers
were made in two parts with long handles, one bowl-shaped,
the other domed, joined by hinges. The squeezer we recog-
nize today, with ribs, juice-filtering rim and teeth for catching
the pips, first appeared in the American Sears Roebuck cata –
logue of . Although initially sold as a lemon squeezer,
as Margaret Visser commented, it was a brilliantly simple des –
ign based on the power of the human hand when twisted.
The squeezer began its conquest of the world’s kitchen
when an advertisement was placed in the Saturday Eve –
ning Post for February suggesting that we
should ‘Drink an Orange’ for breakfast, and offering
round glass orange-squeezers to readers for ten cents
In time, electric mixers came with orange-juicing attach-
ments – the trick was to hold the orange still while the mixer
did the twisting. Today there are all sorts of fancy devices and
machines, including Philippe Starck’s tarantula-like Alessi
squeezer, but I think an old-fashioned wooden reamer with a
ridged, convex blade remains one of the best and cheapest
juicers you can buy, as long as you don’t mind sticky fingers.
The acid and natural sugar levels of oranges are measured
in units called Brix, and heavy fruits with well-coloured juice
high in sugar, as is characteristic of the best Florida oranges,
are the most valuable. The taste and texture of oranges, how –
ever, naturally differs by type, season, location and even the
position on the tree. This innate variation may be part of the
attraction to an individual consumer, but it is also the last
thing an industrialized product needs.
As freshly squeezed juice lasts only a short time, the grow-
ers considered how to preserve the juice. The first step was
canning, but canned juice initially tasted terrible. Vacuum-
evaporated concentrate was first frozen in Florida in the s
but the flavour was lost when the water was removed. The in –
centive to produce a quality frozen juice was strongly motivated,
as has been noted, by the need to supply the troops with
provisions during the Second World War. It was a formid able
technical and practical challenge. The .. army could hardly
transport vast quantities of fruit to millions of soldiers; the
logistics were impossible. The first solution was powdered
orange juice – all the soldier had to do was add water. Un –
fortunately, it tasted so bad that no one could then drink the
stuff. Canned juice, on the other hand, was bulky and heavy
to transport long distances and the metal was needed for the
All efforts were directed to the development of a better
frozen juice concentrate. Finally, scientists at the Florida Citrus
orange juice at
Florida, c. s.
Commission made a big leap forward in when they dis-
covered that the taste of the concentrate could be improved
by the addition of a small amount of fresh juice before it was
frozen. It was easier to ship than large cans of juice and when
reconstituted, you could almost believe you were drinking the
former. It changed the history of orange juice forever.
From then on, the growth of the giant Tropicana and
Minute Maid brands were built on the post-war baby boom
and the rise of the suburban lifestyle, in which the act of
peeling an orange was considered time-wasting and tedious,
as well as new kitchen innovations: refrigerators, frozen din-
ners and those iconic little tins of .
The process is at once fundamentally simple and highly
complex. The fruit is washed and sorted, and the peel pricked
Woman pouring Orange Nip frozen orange juice for her children in
Sarasota, Florida, . Many Americans grew up on reconstituted juice
made by diluting the thawed concentrate with water. In the in the
s, it was sold by Findus; there was even a pop song called ‘Frozen
Orange Juice’ that offered a vision of continental sophistication.
to extract oil. The juicing machines strip off the pith and peel
and extract the juice, which goes to a ‘finishing’ screen where
the pulp and seeds are removed. The waste is variously used
for livestock feed, pectin or brewing. The scale of opera –
tions today is immense; orange juice flows like a mighty river.
The scientist Pierre Laszlo makes an apt comparison with an