Food and Drink 

Tangy exotics at the local produce counter

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Two welcome bits of exotica pop up around this time of year at your produce counter. Both are redolent with good health, and both have a reputation for putting the boot to lingering winter blahs. Our exotic guests? Blood oranges and Seville oranges.

Blood oranges, if you’ve never had the pleasure of encountering one, are phenomenal to behold. Even though a blush of red on their orange skins warns of what’s to come, people are equal parts shocked and delighted on cutting one open, whether they’re virginal or fully seasoned blood orange eaters.

My theory is it has everything to do with the fact that we’ve named the orange and the colour of same with a single word, so they remain inseparable in our English consciousness (the word "orange" actually comes from a Sanskrit word, "naranga"). Something like being upended when our usually unripe lime-green limes turn yellow when they ripen.

All similar assumptions fall away when you cut into a blood orange. If you’re lucky enough to get a good juicy one, drops of crimson red juice, like tiny ruby beads, spill out onto your cutting board or plate.

But that’s nothing compared to the thrill of the orange half flopping open, cut side up, revealing its glorious red segments organized in that beautiful full circle fan. They can even be red-purple, and I’ve had one that was almost black, the pigment was so deep. All set off by the ring of white pulp and skin of bright orange. Beautiful.

Now that I’ve got you all excited, here’s the catch – I’ve also opened blood oranges and found plain old orange colour, or orange tinged with just a blush of red. This is not to be completely discredited, but when you’re expecting blood and get orange juice, well, it’s just not the same.

Colour variations are due to several factors. Now there are three varieties of blood oranges making their way to North American markets, two from the Mediterranean, where they’ve been grown since the 18th century, one variety in Italy, another in Spain, and one from the San Diego area, home to a new hybrid.

The Tarocco blood orange from Italy may be sweeter, but its red colour is not as consistent. The Moro, from California, is usually darker in colour. But I’ve found colour variations all in the same batch, wherever it’s from.

Harold McGee, in his seminal On Food and Cooking , explains that the wonderful dark red colour is due to anthocyanin pigments, also found in the likes of cherries, red grapes, blackberries, eggplant, red currents, and the reddish colour in new leaves of certain plants.

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