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Sour Oranges: Kitchen Basics

Orange Seville1
Orange Seville
Seville orange

Sour oranges are also called bitter oranges.

These are oranges that are not sweet tasting.

The best known sour oranges are Seville, Bouquet de Fleurs (also called Bouquet), Chinotto, and Bergamot.

Sour oranges are harvested beginning in late fall and the harvest continues through spring depending upon the region and climate.

Sour oranges have both a sour taste and an astringent or bitter taste.

The sourness of an orange is due to the fruit’s acidic acid–think of the taste of lemons and limes.

The bitterness of an orange is associated with its essential oils–think of the taste of orange rind or pith.

Sour is usually considered a more pleasant taste than bitter.

Sour oranges are almost never eaten out of hand or as a fresh fruit. They are used to make orange marmalade, sauces, chutney, candied fruit, pies, flavorings, and liqueurs such as Grand Marnier, curaçao, and Cointreau.

Sour orange fruit and blossoms are used in China to make teas and herbal medicines. They are also used in making orange flower water, perfumes, and rind oil.

Sour oranges usually have a deep-orange colored fruit, are large, and are juicy. They have a thick dimpled skin.

Sour oranges are higher in natural pectin—a gelling agent–than sweet oranges. That makes them ideal for use in marmalades, jellies, and preserves.

Best known sour orange varieties:

Seville (sometimes called bigarade orange) has a medium size fruit that is more flat in shape than a sweet orange. It has a deep orange skin that is rough and slightly loose. It can be seedy. It is juicy and very tart and sour tasting. The Seville is most often used for making marmalade.

Bouquet de Fleurs has a medium-sized, flattened fruit and orange-colored rind. It has few seeds and is easy to peel. It is juicy and sour tasting. Bouquet is considered the most fragrant of all oranges. It is used in the making of French perfumes.

Chinotto is also called the myrtle-leaf orange. It has a small flattened fruit and a deep orange rind that is loosely adherent. It can be seedy. It is juicy and sour. Chinotto is used for making candy in Italy, and it is used for making jellies and preserves.

Bergamot orange is a small, somewhat pear-shaped orange. It is said to be a cross between a pear lemon and Seville orange and grapefruit. The trees of this orange are called bergamots, and they are most successfully grown on the Ionian coast of Italy in the province of Reggio Calabria. This orange is used to make bergamot oil a component of many perfumes and teas such as Earl Grey tea.

Choose. Select an orange that is firm and heavy for its size. A heavy orange will be a juicy orange. Avoid oranges that are spongy or have mold. Rough brown russeting on the rind of an orange will not affect the flavor or quality. A slight greening of the orange rind will not affect the quality. An orange with a green tint to its rind can be ripe and ready for use.

Store. Oranges will keep in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for up to a month, or they will store in a cool, dark place in the kitchen for a week.

Sour oranges facts and trivia. Sour oranges are sometimes referred to as Persian oranges. It is thought that sour oranges originated in the region of modern-day Iran.

Persian oranges traveled to southern Europe with Arab traders and were introduced into Italy in the eleventh century. Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and Dutch sailors planted citrus along trade routes to prevent scurvy.

The sweet orange came to Europe in the fifteenth century from India, brought by Portuguese traders. It soon grew more popular than the sour orange that had preceded it.

Columbus brought orange seeds to Haiti on his second voyage in 1493. Oranges were introduced to Florida in 1513 by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon.

The botanical name of the bitter orange is Citrus aurantia.

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.


Comments are closed.
    • There are several reasons an orange may taste sour or bitter: (1) many orange varieties require heat to sweeten their fruit; summer heat builds sugar in fruits; if your garden or region is cool, the oranges on your tree may never become fully sweet; (2) if you harvest oranges too soon, they may be sour; the longer an orange stays on the tree the lower the acid content; taste one from the tree before you begin your harvest; (3) the orange variety you are growing may be a sour orange (Citrus aurantium), not a sweet orange; sour orange trees are naturally sour; the fruits are grown for their bitter peels, which are used to add orange flavor to recipes; sour orange peels have a dimpled appearance and a slightly reddish cast. (4) if an orange tree goes untended, suckers below the rootstock graft may grow and take over; fruits from rootstock are not the same as the grafted portion and can be sour by nature.

  1. We live in central Fl. and have several Orange trees, but cannot eat them because of the bitterness. Have they gone wild or is this just the type of orange

    • Use sour orange varieties to make marmalade, salad dressings, or marinade. Sour oranges can also be used in teas and juices. If the variety of orange you are growing is naturally sour, it will never be the preferred orange for fresh eating.

  2. There is an old-time florida recipe for Sour Orange Pie very similar to a KeylLime pie. Try it with your sour oranges – delicious and much more nuanced than Key Lime Pie. There are recipes on the web that help you concentrate the sour orange juice.

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