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Are Most Oranges Actually Orange?

Published Jan 30, 2024
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Oranges are a healthy and delicious fruit enjoyed by people all over the globe. In English, the orange fruit is inextricably linked with the color that shares its name. Yet, despite what you see in the supermarket, the exterior of an orange is not always orange.

The fruit's skin can vary from bright orange to yellow-orange to orange with green patches. In fact, in warm, sunny environments, many ripe oranges naturally stay green due to their high chlorophyll content. Oranges only turn orange if they are in a climate with a significant difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, which must fall to around 53.6°F (12°C). This doesn't often happen in tropical and subtropical regions, leaving the skin distinctly green.

Yet because many people in temperate regions associate green fruit with being unripe, some rather extreme "degreening" measures are taken to make the green oranges more appetizing for customers. To achieve the orange hue associated with their name, the naturally green, ripe oranges may be exposed to the cold, covered in wax, exposed to ethylene gas (which breaks down chlorophyll), and covered in dye. Luckily, these measures do not affect the taste.

All about oranges:

  • The first mention of orange fruits in English dates back to the 13th century, whereas the color orange was first used in English in the early 16th century. For the record, the color was named for the fruit and not the other way around. Previously, the color orange was referred to as “geoluread” (yellow-red) in Old English.

  • While some languages also use the same word (or very similar words) for the color and the fruit, others use completely different terms. For example, in Dutch, the word for the color orange is oranje but the fruit is sinaasappel, or "Chinese apple," a reference to their early culivation in southern China. Sweet oranges (Citrus × sinensis) are a hybrid of the pomelo and the mandarin.

  • Oranges aren’t the only fruits that have been artificially pigmented for resale to consumers. Red Delicious apples, blueberries, and Maraschino cherries are also artificially treated to achieve their color.

  • Brazil is the largest producer of oranges in the world, with an estimated output of 16.5 million metric tons (MMT) in 2022-2023, more than double the next-largest producer, China (7.6 MMT). India, the United States, Mexico, and Egypt are also major producers.

  • It takes approximately 14 gallons of water to grow one orange in California.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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