What are Bitter Oranges?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Bitter oranges are members of the orange family which are cultivated for their intensely sour, bitter fruit and fragrant peels. While the bitter orange is rarely used as a standalone item in food, products of the fruit are integrated into things as varied as tea and marmalade. Like many other citrus fruits, bitter oranges prefer semi-tropical climates, and tend not to do well in cooler areas, although they are sometimes grown ornamentally in temperate zones. Bitter oranges are rarely available for sale in markets, although products such as bitter orange extract are sometimes sold.

Dried bitter oranges peel.
Dried bitter oranges peel.

Alternate names for the bitter orange include sour orange and Seville orange, after a Southern Spanish city in Spain. A variant on the bitter orange, the bergamot orange, is actually a subspecies of Citrus aurantium, the botanical classification for the bitter orange. In any case, bitter oranges are characterized by an intensely bitter flesh which is generally viewed as unpalatable on its own. The citrus fruit appears to have originated in Vietnam, where the spiny evergreen trees have been cultivated for hundreds of years.

Bitter orange peel is used to make triple sec, a classic ingredient in Cosmopolitans.
Bitter orange peel is used to make triple sec, a classic ingredient in Cosmopolitans.

In Asian cuisine, the bitter flavor is valued as an addition to foods. Often, bitter oranges are pickled for use as a garnish. Outside of Asia, the bitter oranges are cultivated for use as a botanical extract. Bitter orange oil is often used in cosmetics, and is sometimes included in health supplements as well. The peels and fruits may be candied for inclusion in sweets and desserts, and the bitter flesh is added to marmalade and other preserves for an injection of sour flavor. Bitter orange extract is also a crucial ingredient in triple sec and Curacao, two classic liqueurs.

Bitter oranges have an intensely flavored peel.
Bitter oranges have an intensely flavored peel.

The Bergamot orange is a variant cultivated in Italy for its flavorful and zesty peels. Bergamot is a classic ingredient in Earl Grey tea, and it is also used in other foods. The fruit of the Bergamot orange has a distinctive pear shape which sets it aside from bitter oranges. A true bitter orange has an oblate shape.

Bitter oranges are sometimes used to flavor tea.
Bitter oranges are sometimes used to flavor tea.

The bitter orange tree is famously very hardy, and it is sometimes used as rootstock as a result. When bitter oranges are used as rootstock, they are pruned to a single trunk, allowing gardeners to graft another orange varietal onto the trunk. The bitter orange rootstock can withstand cold, poor water, and insect invasion more effectively than some more palatable orange species, making it a good choice for citrus trees destined for beginning gardeners.

Bitter oranges can be used to make marmalade.
Bitter oranges can be used to make marmalade.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

anon178382

To the folks from OK, I think you can find them at the Rio Grande Nursery which has a website called citrus on line. Pricey, though. Robin, Cross Creek, FL

anon81054

I thought I was growing a Seville Orange in a tub on Tybee Island Georgia. But when I cut it to cook, I saw blood red streaks. Is that possible?

Tinkertom

We also would like to purchase seville oranges to make marmalade and barbeque sauce in Oklahoma. Anyone know where we could find sour oranges in Texas perhaps?

anon15506

Can you help me locate as to where I can purchase a sour orange tree? I live in South Florida, have been searching for months. I'd be glad to pay for shipping. I just have had no luck and I would really like to get one for my mother. She marinates her meats in a concoction she prepares with the juice of sour oranges. She would love to have one. Any information you could provide. Lorraine

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: