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Orange Types: Sweet, Bitter, Mandarin

Orange Navel1

There are three types of oranges: sweet oranges, bitter oranges, and mandarins.

Sweet oranges are most commonly used for eating fresh and for juice. Bitter or sour oranges are used for making marmalade and orange-flavored liqueurs, and mandarins–which are also called tangerines and are not really oranges but separate citrus—are used for eating fresh.

Bitter oranges originated in India and made their way to the Mediterranean region around 1000 AD. Today bitter oranges are mainly grown in Europe.

The sweet orange is believed to have originated in southern China and came to the Mediterranean region several hundred years after the bitter orange. Today sweet oranges are grown around the world but the largest crops are in Brazil, the United States, and Mexico.

Mandarins are thought to have originated in southeastern China and spread throughout Asia in the tenth century and to Europe in the early 1800s. Today they are grown mainly in Brazil, the United States, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

Both the bitter and sweet orange were brought to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 1500s. Mandarin was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s.

All oranges thrive in warm regions where the summers are warm and the winters are cool but the temperatures do not go below freezing. With their dark green leaves that stay on the tree throughout the year and their fragrant white flowers, oranges are considered among the most beautiful of plants. .

The bitter orange generally resists cold better than the sweet orange and the mandarin is more resistant to cold than either the sweet or bitter orange. The bitter and sweet orange resists cold better than other citrus such as limes or lemons.

Sweet Oranges have a sweet flavor—actually a blend of sugar and acid–and are round to oval in shape. There are three groups of sweet oranges:

Common oranges are the largest group of sweet oranges. They are sold as fresh fruit and almost all orange juice comes from common oranges. The Valencia orange—the most popular orange in the world–is a type of common orange. Other common orange varieties include Hamlin, Jaffa, Marrs, Parson Brown, Pineapple, and Trovita.

Navel oranges are sweet oranges that develop a small second fruit within the larger fruit at the blossom end of the orange which is at the end opposite the stem. Where the second fruit develops is an indentation that looks like a human navel and thus the name. The Washington navel orange is the original and best-known navel orange. Other navel orange varieties include Cara Cara, Fukumoto, Lane Late, Robertson, Skaggs Bonanza, and Spring.

Blood oranges are similar in appearance to common oranges but the tint of their flesh and peels range in color from pink to red to purple. The juice of blood oranges is red with some more red than others. Blood oranges have a rich, berry-tinged flavor. The best-known blood orange varieties are Moro, Sanguinelli, and Tarocco.

Bitter or sour oranges are usually not eaten fresh because their flesh is tart to bitter tasting. The sour flavor of these oranges is a result of the fruits’ acidic juices; the bitterness is due to the essential oils. The best-known bitter orange varieties are Bouquet de Fleurs, Chinotto, and Seville.

Mandarin oranges are a large and varied group of citrus that share several traits. Most notably, mandarins are loose-skinned fruits—so loose that they are sometimes called zipper-skinned. Mandarins are also generally smaller and flattened looking, and they typically are sweeter than sweet oranges. There are many well-known varieties of mandarins—some of which are also called tangerines: Clementine, Dancy, Encore, Fremont, Honey, Kara, Kinnow, Mediterranean, Pixie, Ponkan, Satsuma, and Wilking.

The difference between many oranges is the climates in which they are grown. Oranges originating in more tropical regions are thinner-skinned, juicier, contain less acid, and are paler in color than oranges grown in cooler or sub-tropical regions. The most flavorful oranges are grown in regions where the days are hot and the nights are cool. Sugar forms during hot days and acid during cool nights to create the tastiest oranges.

The orange does not get its name from its color but from the Sanskrit word naranga which means “fragrant”. Naranga became naranj in Persian and later became aurantium in Latin and arancia in Italian and later became orange in French and English.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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