Oranges – Winter’s Favorite Fresh Fruit

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When the sun doesn’t spend much time in the sky, it’s nice to have some fiery-looking orbs in the kitchen. Fresh navel oranges taste like summer, but are at their peak in the winter. Nutritious, delicious and beautiful, oranges are a pleasure of the season.

Varieties of oranges
There are many varieties of oranges, but the two most popular ones are navel oranges and Valencia oranges. Valencias, which have a smooth, thin skin, ripen in the spring and are best known as juice oranges, though they are also good for eating. In the winter, look for seedless navel oranges, which are easy to identify by the “belly button” on their blossom end. Easy to peel, sweet and delicious, navel oranges are widely available from November through April, and are at the height of their season in January.

Choosing and storing
Oranges are picked ripe and ready to eat. Choose firm oranges that are heavy for their size, as heavier oranges have more juice inside. In general, smaller oranges are juicier than larger ones. Color is not a good indication of quality. Although the fruit changes from green to orange as it ripens, under certain growing conditions the ripe fruit will begin to turn green again – and may actually be sweeter than some fully orange fruit.
Store oranges on the counter for 10 days to 2 weeks, or up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. The peel protects the fruit and very little nutritional value is lost until the skin is cut.

Nutrition
Oranges are among Mother Nature’s finest gifts. Just one navel orange will meet your entire day’s requirement for vitamin C! If you eat an orange, you’ll also be getting more than three grams of dietary fiber, including soluble fiber, as well as folate, potassium, calcium and magnesium. You won’t use much of your calorie budget to get this either, because an orange has only a little more than 60 calories. Oranges also contain health-promoting flavonoids and terpenes, which appear to help fight off cancer.

Weight control with oranges
In a recent study, people ate the same number of calories from a variety of different types of food and reported how full they felt afterward. Those who ate fruit, especially oranges, reported feeling fullest over the next couple of hours. And their behavior proved this to be true. When allowed to eat freely from a buffet two hours later, the orange eaters ate noticeably less than those whose snacks had not made them feel as full.

Preparation
How easy can you get – just peel and eat! Navel oranges are so easy to peel that no knife is necessary, just stick a finger in the end and pull. To juice an orange, cut it crosswise. Room temperature oranges will provide more juice than cold ones. The juice of navel oranges can turn bitter on standing or heating, so squeeze them right before drinking. If you cook with navel oranges, add them at the last minute, just to heat them.

Orange zest, the colorful peel, adds sparkle to baked goods and sauces. Scrub the orange well and then use a very fine grater or a special zesting tool to remove only the outer, colored part of the peel. The white part, which is fine to eat with the rest of the orange, can become very bitter if cooked.

Tips for using oranges
• Should you go for the juice or the whole fruit? The whole fruit has more fiber to fill you up and is chock full of nutrients. Juice is low in fiber, but it is high in folate, which may help prevent certain birth defects and lower homocysteine levels which helps lower the risk of heart attack.
• Calcium-fortified orange juice is an excellent source of well-absorbed calcium.
• Oranges are wonderful in a salad. They pair beautifully with fresh spinach leaves.
• Blend orange sections into your next fruit smoothie or serve them with baked fish.
• When you squeeze an orange, save the shells. They make fun containers for fruit salad or sorbet.
• Dry citrus peel to use later in recipes. Spread grated peel out as a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 200 ºF for one hour. Store in a tightly covered container.
By Cheryl Sullivan, MA, RD.

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