Delicious and juicy orange fruit contains an impressive list of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals for normal growth and development and overall well-being.
Botanically, the orange is a citrus fruit belonging to the family of Rutaceae of the genus; Citrus (which also includes pomelo, tangerine (mandarin orange) and grapefruit). Scientifically the fruit is named as "Citrus sinensis".
The orange plant is a tropical to semitropical, evergreen, small flowering tree growing to about 5 to 8 m tall. It bears seasonal fruits that measure about 3 inches in diameter and weighs about 100-150 g. Oranges are classified into two general categories, sweet and bitter, with the former being the type most commonly consumed. Popular varieties of the sweet orange include Valencia, Navel, Persian variety, and blood orange.
Tangerines are related varieties of oranges distinguished by loose, easily peeled shin (pericarp) and sweet juicy flesh (arils). They are also known as mandarin oranges in Europe and satsumas in Japan. Just as oranges, these too belong to the Rutaceae (citrus Family) and known scientifically as Citrus reticulata.
Fruits belonging to citrus group are described as “hesperidium”, (A hesperidium is a scientific term to describe the fruit structure belonging to citrus group. In fact, the fruit is a modified berry with tough, leathery rind. Oranage peel contains many volatile oil glands in pits. Interior flesh is composed of segments, called carpels, made up of numerous fluid-filled vesicles that are actually specialized hair cells).
Health benefits of oranges
Nutrients in oranges are plentiful and diverse. The fruit is low in calories, contains no saturated fats or cholesterol, but is rich in dietary fiber, pectin, which is very effective in persons with excess body weight. Pectin, by its action as bulk laxative, helps to protect the mucous membrane of the colon by decreasing its exposure time to toxic substances as well as by binding to cancer causing chemicals in the colon. Pectin has also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels by decreasing its re-absorption in the colon by binding to bile acids in the colon.
Oranges, like other citrus fruits, is an excellent source of vitamin C (provides about 60% of DRI); Vitamin C is a powerful natural antioxidant. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the blood.
Orange fruit contains a variety of phytochemicals. Hesperetin and Narigenin are flavonoids found in citrus fruits. Naringenin is found to have a bio-active effect on human health as antioxidant, free radical scavenger, anti-inflammatory, and immune system modulator. This substance has also been shown to reduce oxidant injury to DNA in vitro studies.
Oranges also contain very good levels of vitamin A, and other flavonoid antioxidants such as alpha and beta-carotenes, beta-cryptoxanthin, zea-xanthin and lutein. These compounds are known to have antioxidant properties. Vitamin A is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin and is essential for vision. Consumption of natural fruits rich in flavonoids helps the body protect itself from lung and oral cavity cancers.
It is also a very good source of B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, pyridoxine, and folates. These vitamins are essential in the sense that the body requires them from external sources to replenish.
Orange fruit also contains a very good amount of minerals like potassium and calcium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure through countering sodium actions.
Citrus fruits, as such, have long been valued for their wholesome nutritious and antioxidant properties. It is scientifically established that citrus fruits, especially oranges, by virtue of their richness in vitamins and minerals, have many proven health benefits. Moreover, it is now beginning to be appreciated that the other biologically active, non-nutrient compounds found in citrus fruits such as phyto-chemical antioxidants, soluble and insoluble dietary fiber have been found to be helpful in reducing the risk for cancers, many chronic diseases (like arthritis), obesity and coronary heart diseases.
Selection and storage
Orange fruit season begins from October and lasts until February. Mature fruits are usually harvested from the tree using machines, and thus may sustain minor, superficial injuries. Such small abrasions however, on the fruit surfaces usually do not influence the quality of the fruit.
In the store, buy fresh fruits that feature firmness, yet yield to gentle pressure but recoils immediately. Fresh oranges have a bright color, devoid of any wrinkles on the skin. They should feel heavy for their size, and emanate sweet aroma. Avoid overtly softened fruits with spots and mold as they tend to perish early.
Oranges can be kept at room temperature for a week or so but keep well for up to two weeks in the fruit/vegetable compartment of the home refrigerator. Keep them loose in the fruit container and place in cool area away from excessive moisture as they tend to get mold infection early. Store freshly squeezed orange juice inside the freezer compartment for later use. Store dried orange zest in a cool, dry place in an airtight glass container away from moisture.
Preparation and serving tips
Orange fruit can be carried to any place without much trouble. Fresh oranges can be eaten at anytime, anywhere; just wash them under running water to remove surface dirt and any pesticide residues, peel the skin, and enjoy!
Remove skin after scoring superficially on the skin with your fingers or using a knife. Remove rind and fibers and gently peel off membranes and seeds. They are usually eaten this way. They can also be eaten by slicing the fruit horizontally into two halves and scooping out sections of the halves with a spoon.
Orange fruit juice is also as popular as raw ones; however, use raw fruits instead of juice for the maximum benefit of antioxidants. Fiber content in the fruit is also lessened to a great degree in the juice. If you wish to go for fresh orange juice, then prepare it yourself at home instead of commercial drinks that may contain preservatives and artificial colorants. Bring the fruit to room temperature if kept in the refrigerator.
The outermost part of the rind, can be grated. Zester can be used to produce orange zest, which also have many culinary values for its flavor rich oil glands.
Here are some Serving tips:
- Orange fruit sections are a great addition to green and fruit salads.
- Orange fruit juice can be a re-freshening intra-day drink.
- The fruit is also used in the preparation of desserts, jams, and jellies.
- Orange zest (peel) is also used in preparation of popular dishes for its rich flavor.
- Dried orange blossoms and leaves are used as herbal tea.