Bitter, or Seville oranges are too sour and bitter to eat as a fruit. But they’re important ingredients in many foods. Traditional marmalade is made with these oranges, as is orange blossom water. The rind has a cleaner, more intense aroma than sweet oranges, so it’s traditionally been used for liqueurs, such as Grand Marnier and Triple Sec; as well as for sweets. You can substitute regular orange rind, but use the Seville zest when you can. In Iran and southern Mexico, they use fresh bitter orange juice in the same way as you would use lemon or lime juice.
Finding bitter oranges:
The season for bitter oranges is quite short, but they’re readily available in many Persian markets around March-April. If you have the climate and inclination you can grow your own, and you’ll have a steady supply from December through the spring. For sweet dishes, you can always use marmalade. Orange blossom water is also readily available from many Indian, Persian, Latin, or Middle Eastern markets.
The juice is used in cooking, and in a similar way to lemon or lime juice. The whole fruit is used for marmalade. The zest is used in candied peel, conserves, in liqueurs, and in cooking. The orange blossom is used medicinally, in perfume, and (as water) in a number of confections. Additionally, the fragrant leaves can be used in a soothing tea.
– 8 tbsp (120ml) lime juice
– 4 tbsp( 60ml) orange juice
– 4 tbsp (60ml) grapefruit juice
– 2 tsp grated grapefruit zest
– Orange zest
Oranges (like most citrus) originate in Asia, from southern China or India, around 100CE. They’re a hybrid, likely between a mandarin and a pomello. Oranges were originally all bitter, and spread to Europe via the Arabs, along the Silk Road. In medieval Andalusia (Spain), they were common for cooking and medicinal use, and their flowers were highly prized for perfume and cooking. You can see traces of this history in our language — Sanskrit narenj is the name for orange. Perisans use the name narenj, and Spanish, naranja. Spanish call orange blossoms azahar, from Arabic al zahar (flower blossom — also, incidentally, the name of our cat).
Because of their association with Spain, bitter oranges are usually called Seville oranges in English. Sweet oranges came much later, and were imported from China by Portugal. In fact they’re still called portugal in Turkish and Farsi.