Blood oranges are exotic. I never knew about them growing up and had no idea what to do with them until recently. Now I’m a huge fan. So I decided to delve more deeply into what blood oranges are and why they are so delicious.
When I was young, my grandmother, who grew up in New York’s now-famous lower East Side, used to tell me that getting an orange in the winter when she was a girl, was a treat. The fresh fruits and vegetables available during her childhood (to those who could afford them), were those that were in season in the local area.
These days, “buy local” is not a necessity, it’s a movement. While I do like to support local growers, I love citrus fruit, and there just isn’t any grown locally in the mid-Atlantic states.
And so, my thoughts and grocery cart turns to oranges grown in more temperate climates. I’ve always loved navel oranges, the sweet oranges with thick skins that peel easily, perfect for eating plain or in salad. Their rind is great for baking too, in cakes, cookies, and icing.
But lately, blood oranges have called to me, piled up in a lovely display at the grocery store. Also called ruby oranges, they are a more exotic type of orange, about the same size as a navel, but with a slightly red tint on portions of the fruit’s skin. Inside they are bright red.
That color comes from anthocyanin, an antioxidant pigment that also protects the fruit from becoming damaged by the environment. Yes, blood orange juice stains, but unlike beet juice, it easily wipes off a cutting board with water and a slightly soapy sponge. I haven’t gotten it on my clothes, so I can’t say how easily you could launder it order; suffice it to say, you’d be wise to cover your pristine white shirt before cutting a blood orange, or eating one.
I struggled for how to describe the taste of blood orange and researched the descriptions and comparisons others have used. Everyone seems to agree that they are sweet, with some but not all noting a slightly sour tang. Several sources I found pointed to a hint of raspberry or blackberry. To me, blood orange tastes like a cross between raspberry, navel orange, and grapefruit. The bottom line is that the taste is distinctive and to many of us, sublime – worth trying for anyone who enjoys citrus flavors.
How to Use Blood Oranges?
- In vinaigrette salad dressing. Try this formula for basic vinaigrette, adding a bit of blood orange juice and maybe a smidgen of grated peel.
- In drinks – I love this recipe for a blood orange old fashioned from my pal Kelly of KellyBakes.
- In salad, sliced with contrasting colored fruits or vegetables such as avocado, fennel or arugula. Sliced fennel and blood orange salad with a touch of oil and vinegar, salt and pepper is a traditional Italian dish called Insalata di Finocchio e Arance. Marcella Hazan has a recipe in her book, Marcella Says…. Basically, it’s the simplest of all dishes, much like the shaved fennel salad I learned from Julia Child and Alice Waters.
- With chicken or fish, blood oranges make a delicious sauce or side dish. Popular chef Yotam Ottolenghi has a recipe for sea bass with a blood orange sauce and side salad that sounds divine.
- In baked goods, add juice and perhaps a bit of grated blood orange rind in panna cotta, or in any cake, cookie, or cupcake recipe as a substitute for another flavoring such as lemon in poundcake.
- In other desserts. I use blood oranges instead of “regular” oranges in this light and sweet combination of oranges and simple syrup.
Have you ever used blood oranges? What’s your description of how a blood orange tastes?