What is Blood Orange?

C. Ausbrooks

Blood orange is a variety of the popular citrus fruit named for its deep red or crimson-colored flesh. The red color is derived from anthocyanin, a pigment typically found in red fruits and flowers. Blood oranges are sweet, juicy and less acidic than other orange varieties. They are also slightly smaller than the common table orange and features a pitted or smooth outer skin. Some types of blood oranges have dark red coloring on the outside, and most are seedless.

Blood orange juice can give a cocktail a bright red color.
Blood orange juice can give a cocktail a bright red color.

It is believed that blood oranges are natural mutations of typical oranges that have been continuously propagated since their first appearance. The blood orange was first documented in Italy in the opera Hesperides in 1646, where it was called “red orange.” The fruit was not documented in Europe until around 1850, although it may have been grown here earlier than this. Blood oranges were eventually exported to North America, where they are also known as pigmented oranges and sanguines.

Blood oranges have red pulp and flesh.
Blood oranges have red pulp and flesh.

Blood oranges were first cultivated in Sicily, where they are still grown today. As the demand for the sweet, red oranges grew, the Sicilians began to export the fruit to other countries. Today, the blood orange is also grown in California and Florida in the United States, although the climate in Florida creates blood oranges lacking the characteristic red flesh.

Blood orange essential oil has antidepressant qualities when used in aromatherapy.
Blood orange essential oil has antidepressant qualities when used in aromatherapy.

There are three primary cultivars of the blood orange: Sanguinello, Moro and Tarocco. The Sanguinello cultivar has a red skin, red-streaked flesh and few seeds. The Moro cultivar features deep crimson flesh, red-orange skin and a stronger taste and aroma than the other types. The Tarocco cultivar is the sweetest of the three, with orange skin and red-tinged flesh. The Tarocco blood orange is also known as “half-blood” because it is not as deeply pigmented as the other cultivars.

The blood orange was first documented in Italy.
The blood orange was first documented in Italy.

All blood oranges are rich in potassium, vitamin C and dietary fiber. One medium-sized blood orange can provide as much as 30 percent of the daily recommended value of fiber and 130 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C. The fruit also contains no fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium.

The juice from blood oranges can be used to flavor a vinaigrette dressing for green salads.
The juice from blood oranges can be used to flavor a vinaigrette dressing for green salads.

In addition to being eaten raw, blood oranges have numerous culinary uses. They are generally used in exactly the same way as other types of oranges. The juice from blood oranges is used to make marmalade, jelly, sorbet, soft drinks and even salad dressings. The juice is also a popular ingredient in cocktails, likely because of its red color, and the zest is often used in baking.

Some bath soaps and salts are made using blood orange oil, which is said to have energizing properties.
Some bath soaps and salts are made using blood orange oil, which is said to have energizing properties.

Blood orange essential oil has a distinct aroma that is much stronger than other orange oils. It is used in aromatherapy as an antidepressant and is also valued for its energy boosting properties. The oil is a common herbal remedy in parts of Europe for treating digestive problems. Other uses of the essential oil include treating external pain, bruises and aches, and indigestion.

Unlike standard oranges, blood oranges are not picked year round.
Unlike standard oranges, blood oranges are not picked year round.
Blood orange sorbet or gelato may offer a cool summertime treat.
Blood orange sorbet or gelato may offer a cool summertime treat.

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