There are many varieties of citrus – hundreds, actually – and this is prime time to find them at the farmers market. Of the huge variety available, some seem to get more attention than others. Citrus varieties become fashionable, then others supplant them. Remember Minneola tangerines and Temple oranges? Now it is Cuties (actually a brand name for two types of Mandarins – the Clementine and the Murcott) that are the hot citrus.
One citrus that is always of interest is the blood orange. It is the most widely grown orange in Italy, and has lately been quietly fashionable among the “foodie” crowd that is driving the cocktail revival as a flavorful mixer and juice alternate to plain old O.J.
There are quite a few varieties of blood oranges, but here on the Central Coast we primarily see Sanguinello, Tarocco, and Moro blood oranges.
- The Sanguinello (of Italian origin) is medium sized with few seeds. It is the one that looks most like a “regular” orange on the outside, with a reddish cast to the skin. The skin is thick like a navel or tangerine. Inside, the segments are texturally similar to a Valencia, but will be orangey-red to ruby in color. The flavor is bright, can be very sweet, and will have some floral qualities to it.
- Next for color is the Tarocco. Thinner skinned, the skin can be dark orange and streaked with garnet to dark red, or have large washes of blush. Inside, the flesh can be dark orange with flecks of dark red to striped through with darker reds. The flavor of Tarocco oranges is consistent throughout the season, with a deep, vibrant orange flavor, bright acids and sweetness to balance, with hints of strawberry to it. These are medium sized and have a slight oval shape or taper towards the top, and peel fairly easily. Tarocco blood oranges are the favored orange of Italy, and are the number one citrus crop there as well. This is the juice most used in the many sodas now hitting the stores.
- The most dramatic of the lot would be the Moro. Small to medium in size, this is the one with the dark orange and ruby skin, which is thin and can be harder to peel. The flesh of the Moro can be very striking-anywhere from an autumnal red to deepest burgundy to almost black. The flavor of Moro oranges can vary widely through the season. Too early and you will find them unpleasantly tart and acrid. Too late and they have a muddy, unpleasant flavor and metallic tang. When just right (right around now), they have a sublime orange-y, deep wine like flavor with hints of raspberry to them, with a great sweet/tart balance. The juice is wild looking as well.
- Cara Cara oranges are a cross between a Brazilian Bahia navel and a Washington navel orange. Cara caras were discovered in Venezuela in 1976, and were introduced to the U.S. market in 1980. They are seedless, low acid, and have a tangy zing to them.
Red fleshed oranges are a lot of fun in the kitchen, and play well with other foods in surprising ways. Besides cocktails and fruit salad, these oranges mix well with vegetables such as cauliflower and brocolli, whole grain salads, and light meat. They also make my favorite variation of Hollandaise – Sauce Maltaise, which is basically hollandaise with blood orange zest and juice added to color and flavor. This sauce is stellar with fish, and makes for a killer “benedict” with shrimp and avocado.
Besides looking and tasting good, blood oranges are good for you. One medium blood orange provides about 130% USRDA vitamin C, 15% folate, 8% thiamin, and 6% calcium for starts. Add in 7gm (28%!) of dietary fiber and you have a great source of nutrition. Also, the color of blood oranges comes from anthocyanins, which are loaded with antioxidants – up to 300% more than regular oranges. By the way, these anthocyanins only develop when night time temperatures are low.
When picking blood oranges, look for fruits that feel heavy and dense. They should not be hard, nor should there be soft or spongy places on the orange. The skin should not be wrinkly or smell moldy. If the skins are not waxed or treated, remove the pith and use the zest for drinks, sauces, or candy it. The peel can also be dried and used as a spice.
Look for blood oranges at Rancho Padre, Brokaw Ranch Company, and Schletewitz Farms.