Mounds of golden spheres perfume the supermarket aisles this season with a dizzying array of juicy varieties. But not all oranges are created equal, each one having a distinct shape, size, color (both rind and flesh), flavor and ease of peeling.
All varieties — whether sweet, tart or bitter — have rich stores of nutrition far surpassing their king-of-Vitamin C reputation. A single fruit is packed with more than 60 flavonoids and 170 phytonutrients to ward off everything from flus, colds and cancers to creaky joints, constipation and even ulcers, while boosting bone, skin, heart and eye health.
One of the most popular oranges worldwide is the seedless Navel, so named for its "belly button" protrusion on the non-stem end. Not only ideal for juicing and snacking, the Navel adds a zip to salads of all manners, including watercress, warm wilted spinach, or roasted beet and feta.
Cara Cara, another navel variety with low acid, pinky-tinged flesh wrapped around a bright orange rind, is a California treasure. These seedless gems are sweeter than common navels with delicate cranberry notes, ideal for snacking straight up, tossing segments into a southwest seafood cocktail, juicing into a vinaigrette, whipping up a creamy lavender and Cara curd, or zesting in a hearty risotto.
Valencia, the only variety with summer seasonality is a super sweet, pulpy orange (with a few annoying seeds) that's best for juicing. The Valencia's genome was recently examined, discovering its surprising ancestry — part Pomelo (large, thick-skinned citrus with grapefruit nuances), part Mandarin orange.
Blood Oranges, a grisly name for a divine citrus endowed with vibrant-hued pulp, ranging from dark pinks and crimsons to deep purples and maroons depending upon the load of anthocyanin pigments, give this variety an antioxidant oomph and splash of eye candy. A natural mutation of the common sweet orange, the Blood Orange with tangy raspberry nuances, is a culinary rock star enlivening assorted sips, including martinis, margaritas, smoothies and iced teas, along with heirloom tomato salads, baked chicken or grilled wild-caught salmon dishes, and such sweets as scones, silky cheesecakes, and sorbets.
Good things come in small packages, especially among members of the petite and delicately sweet mandarin family with glossy thin skins that can practically be peeled with a sharp glance. Tiny, seedless Clementines nicknamed "cuties" have honey-like notes. Toss segments into Asian chicken or tropical salads, or the whole fruit into the cavity of a duck before roasting.
The Japanese Sumo, resembling the wrestler with the characteristic topknot and hefty build is one of the largest varieties of mandarins. Its bumpy loose rind is effortless to peel for a quick and refreshing boost of energy.
The tangerine family, a sub-class of mandarins includes:
• Murcott or honey tangerines, medium-sized, seedy fruits with delicate flavor;
• Satsuma, a smaller, seedless citrus with squat top, and melt-in-your mouth, deep-hued flesh;
• Gold Nugget, a double tangerine cross grown in California gives this gem a toothsome, full-bodied flavor;
• The knobby-skinned Fairchild, usually sold with stem and leaves attached, symbolizes good luck and prosperity in Chinese cultures;
• Tiny Kishus are candy sweet, at their peek in February and March.
Tangerine's intensely flavored-flesh and vibrant-colored rind, whether pureed, zested, sliced, squeezed or candied (see recipe), make memorable dishes, including chicken or beef tangerine with scallions and ginger, zippy fennel salad, citrusy crème brulee French toast, or a muddled tangerine rosemary spritzer to wet your whistle throughout the seasons.
From the sweets to the tarts, many include an orange crossed with a grapefruit or Pomelo giving that lip-puckering taste. Tangelos have loose, bright-orange skin with a characteristic nib on top, while Minneolas and Uglis are types of Tangelos with the occasional seed, easy peel skin, and tangy bite. The diminutive Kumquat (that you can pop in your mouth whole, peel and all) gives a sour burst of flavor and splash of color to both sweets and savories.
As for the bitters, Seville, Bergamot, and Trifoliate varieties are best used for their rinds for tangy marmalades and aromatic teas. The juice from sours also adds a zesty layer of flavor to vinaigrette dressings, marinades and exotic cocktails.
Recipe: Tipsy Candied Tangerines
• Ingredients: 6 tangerines, sliced, skin remaining, seeds removed; juice from 1 lemon; 3/4 cup cane sugar; 1/2 cup spring water; 1/4 cup Grand Marnier.
• Method: In a small saucepan, combine water, liqueur and sugar; bring to a boil. Add tangerines and lemon juice. Simmer until tender and liquid is reduced down. Cool and chill.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached at email@example.com