Refreshing, zesty and juicy, oranges are an uplifting addition to any meal or snack.
They also have a rich traditional history that is easily forgotten since they have become so commonplace on the table. Oranges have been part of human culinary history for thousands of years. Chinese records suggest cultivation of the orange as early as 2500 BC. It appears that they originated in Eastern China and parts of India and have since made their way around the globe. Oranges are one of the most widely cultivated fruits and definitely one of the most popular; even more popular than the apple.
Orange trees are evergreen trees and how they reproduce depends entirely on whether or not they are sweet or bitter oranges. Oranges are actually a wintertime fruit, even though they can be found year round in just about every market around the world. This is one reason they are part of holiday tradition in European and U.S. culture. There are several theories of why we have found oranges in the toe of our Christmas stocking for years; one being that the orange represents prosperity and good health in the coming year. Another being that the represent bags of gold; there is a story about Bishop Nicholas throwing bags of gold into the windows of houses with young women too poor for a dowry. The bags of gold ended up in the stockings that were hung by the fire to dry. For at least a century, if not more, oranges have made their way into the toes of stocking representing these bags of gold. Of course, oranges would have been an exotic and delectable treat in the cold of winter, so I imagine they were a truly appreciated gift. They were also an assurance of good health, loaded with vitamins and minerals that were scarce in the cold, short days of winter.
From a culinary perspective, oranges play a pivotal role in many aspects of dietary and culinary endeavors. Orange juice for breakfast, oranges as snack, orange slices in dishes both sweet and savory. In fact, as I mentioned the orange is, unfortunately, so commonplace it is easy to miss out on how amazing it truly is. One way that I like to use oranges is as a base for brown rice. I squeeze the juice, including the pulp into an equal part water and then add rice and steam. It adds an amazing dimension that is refreshing and delicious and can be used for sweet or savory dishes.
From a health perspective, oranges of course are an excellent source of vitamin C. They are also an amazing source of antioxidants, helping to decrease oxidative stress and systemic inflammation. Their phytonutrients boost immune function, enhance heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. They also neutralize free radicals and decrease the potential for cell mutation and cancer. Because they are citrus they are also packed with volatile oils that stimulate the olfactory response to balance mood and increase serotonin production. Research has also demonstrated that the kumquat can be a beneficial addition to your diet if you are trying to get rid of gallstones or liver inflammation.