Peak season for the juicy fruit named for its color

February 12, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Whether sitting in a bowl on your counter or neatly packed in your lunch, fresh oranges are like a bit of sunshine on a dreary day. Fresh navel oranges remind us of summer, yet are at their peak in the winter. Nutritious, delicious and beautiful, oranges have one of the sunniest dispositions of all the fruits in the produce section.

There are many varieties of oranges. The most popular for eating out of hand are the seedless navel oranges. These are easy to peel and best identified by the "belly button" on their blossom end. Navel oranges are widely available from November through April and are at the height of their season in January. Another common variety is the Valencia, which ripens in the spring. Because the smooth, thin skin of the Valencia orange is difficult to peel, it is commonly used for juice. The Mandarin comes from a family of small, flat-ended oranges that are easily peeled and sectioned.


Mandarin oranges range in sweetness, depending on the variety. Blood oranges are so named for their bold red flesh and are used primarily for their decorative effect.

Regardless of the variety, oranges are packed full of good nutrition. Just one medium-size navel orange meets individual daily needs of vitamin C. It also provides more than 3 grams of dietary fiber, including soluble fiber, as well as 5 percent to 10 percent of daily needs of folate, potassium, calcium and magnesium - all for around 65 calories. Oranges also contain health-promoting flavonoids that appear to help fight off cancer.

Unlike pears, oranges are picked ripe and ready to eat. When selecting oranges, choose ones that are heavy for their size because these will have more juice. Color is actually not a good indication of quality. Although the fruit changes from green to orange as it ripens, the ripe fruit may begin to turn green again under certain growing conditions; thus, oranges with green tinges may actually be sweeter than some fully orange fruit.

The best place to store oranges, especially if you want to encourage your family and friends to eat them, is in a bowl on the counter. Because of their protective peel, oranges can be kept at room temperature for up to two weeks with little loss in nutritional value.

Oranges stored at room temperature are generally easier to peel and juicier than ones straight out of the refrigerator. If you have more oranges than you can use in a week or two, store the extras in the refrigerator until needed to refill the bowl. Oranges keep well in a refrigerator for three to four weeks.

Both juice and the whole fruit are good for you, but you'll get more fiber by eating the whole fruit. Orange juice is lower in fiber but more concentrated per volume and therefore contains a greater proportion of folate per serving. Folate is especially important in helping to prevent neural tube birth defects and may help reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer. When choosing juice, make sure the can or bottle says 100 percent fruit juice.


  • 6 cups water

  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice

  • 1 cup orange sections (about 4 oranges)

  • 1/2 cup diced celery

  • 1/3 cup dried sweet cherries or sweetened dried cranberries

  • 1/2 pound smoked turkey breast, diced

  • 1/4 cup thawed orange juice concentrate, undiluted

  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan; stir in rice. Partially cover, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour or until tender. Drain and cool.

Place rice, oranges, celery, cherries and turkey in a bowl.

Combine orange juice concentrate and remaining 6 ingredients; stir well with a whisk. Pour over rice mixture; toss well. Cover and chill.

Yield: 7 - 1 cup servings. Calories: 192 (15% from fat); Fat 3.3 g; Protein 11.9g; Carbohydrates 30.4g; Fiber 2.9 g; Cholesterol 18 mg.

Lynn F. Little is extension educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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