When Oranges Are Not Orange
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN ITALY
WHEN are oranges not orange? In English, that might sound like a play on words, but it need not be. On the Italian island of Sicily, the obvious answer is, “When they are red!”
We are talking about Sicilian blood oranges, so called because of the dramatic color of their flesh, which can range from orange veined with ruby to vermilion to vivid crimson to almost black. Their rind is orange tinged with a red or purple blush, and their aroma is mouth-wateringly fresh. Their flavor is intense and tart-sweet, and some say it has “a hint of raspberry.”
Citrus fruits have been cultivated in Italy from ancient times. Oranges likely reached Sicily from Asia by the fourth century C.E., but these were blond (nonred) sour oranges. The sweet orange was brought to Europe by the Portuguese in the 14th and 15th centuries and from there was introduced into the Americas along with other varieties of citrus. Not until the beginning of the 20th century, however, were blood oranges first formally identified in Sicily.
All oranges contain carotene, the same yellow-orange pigment that gives egg yolks and carrots their color. What is unusual about Sicilian blood oranges of the Moro, Tarocco, and Sanguinello varieties is that they develop a red pigment called anthocyanin, which confers a characteristic red hue on ripe fruits. * But move a blood orange tree from here—a limited area within the provinces of Catania, Syracuse, and Enna—and plant it elsewhere, and the fruit it produces may not necessarily be red at all. Why? What is special about this part of eastern Sicily?
Not all the factors involved in anthocyanin formation in Sicilian blood oranges are clear. It still has to be determined what influence, if any, soil exerts on fruit pigmentation. Other variables either favor or inhibit synthesis of the red pigment as the fruit ripens. It has been observed, for example, that reddening begins when temperatures are frigid by night and light is intense by day. As for the fruit’s taste, abundant sunshine guarantees the right quantity of simple sugars, while modest rainfall ensures that the fruit has a strong undiluted flavor.
This unique combination of factors is thought to be responsible for the distinctiveness of Sicilian blood oranges. Similar fruits have been cultivated in other parts of southern Italy as well as in Spain, Morocco, Florida, and California, but, it is said, no one has succeeded in replicating all the qualities of the Sicilian blood orange.
A Fruit to Be Appreciated
Besides their exceptional color, these fruits also have high nutritional value. Tarocco oranges have the highest vitamin-C content of all citrus fruits. Just one medium-size orange is enough to supply the recommended daily allowance of this vitamin. Numerous benefits are claimed for blood oranges. To mention just some of them, a glass of thick, freshly squeezed juice is a delicious and healthy source of readily assimilable, energy-yielding simple carbohydrates, minerals, and fiber. Not without reason then, Sicilian citrus growers are striving to protect their distinctive product and increase appreciation for it.
Connoisseurs are convinced that these Sicilian fruits are “among the world’s finest dessert oranges because of their intense flavor, ideal balance of acidity and sweetness, and complex, lingering aftertaste.” One day you may have the opportunity to judge for yourself whether you agree.
Though it appeared relatively recently, the blood orange is just one of a huge variety of exquisite foods that Jehovah’s creative acts made possible for man’s delight. Thus, for any who appreciate divine generosity, even the “fruit trees . . . praise the name of Jehovah.”—Psalm 148:9, 13; Genesis 1:29.
^ par. 7 Carotene and anthocyanin are the same pigments that give deciduous leaves their yellow, orange, and red tints in autumn.—See Awake!, September 22, 1987, pages 16-18.