Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Magic of the Sour Seville

You love oranges, right? Of course…we all do. Juicy, brightly colored, and...sour?

Wait a minute.

Well, until just a few hundred years ago, that’s what oranges were! The world’s “original” eating orange, thought by many to be native to Asia, was the bitter or “sour” orange. These fruit are also today known as Seville oranges, after a city in Spain where they have long been famously grown.

The sour orange was first imported to the Mediterranean and Africa in approximately the 10th century. It then spread to Europe, particularly Spain, in the 12th century, where it became wildly popular and an expensive luxury fruit. Soon the sour orange was introduced to the new world, including Florida and the Caribbean. (You can actually still sometimes find sour orange trees growing today in the woodlands of Florida, remnants of the trees introduced by the Spaniards.)

While a sour orange may not at first sound highly appealing to some of us today, the fruit was highly valued in that form. In fact, this type of orange has been and still is incredibly popular and an amazing world traveler, making appearances in a vast variety of fascinating and complex dishes around the globe. Many say that when it comes to cooking, the depth of its flavor simply can’t be matched by sweet oranges.

Those of us in British-influenced counties may know the Seville or sour orange best for its traditional use in marmalade. This beautiful orange-amber preserve goes back to the late 1600s and is traditionally eaten not just at breakfast with scones, crumpets, and toast, but at teatime and even dinner, with meats. Marmalade is made from the peel of the orange and is rather bittersweet, but this is part of its allure. The Seville is highly preferred for this preserve due to its superior flavor and high pectin content (the pectin is what makes the jam set). By the way, marmalade is not the only way bitter oranges are used in a preserve! In Iran, the beautiful fragrant blossoms of the fruit are used to make a special jam, which must be wonderfully aromatic. Here is a recipe for this fascinating jam!

The sour orange has also often been preserved in other ways. For instance, in Greece, the Middle East, and Russia, they are preserved in sugar syrup in a treat known as spoon sweets. In India, sour oranges are pickled in salt and eaten as a condiment alongside savory dishes, such as yogurt rice.

Seville or sour oranges also have a rich history of use in meat or poultry marinades. This use is amazingly international, spanning Iran, India, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. Mojo Criollo, a Cuban citrus marinade and dressing, is very popular on meats and salads in South Florida, especially the Miami area. It absolutely relies on sour oranges (along with garlic, spices, and olive oil) for its authentic flavor. Here’s a Mojo Turkey recipe, or try this one for mojo shrimp—delicious. Sour orange also goes beautifully with fish.

And let’s not forget the booze! You may not realize that the orange flavor in classic orange liqueurs like Grand Marnier, curacao, and triple sec also comes the versatile Seville orange. It’s actually the dried peel that’s used to flavor these special beverages. The very flavorful peel is also an ingredient in Belgian witbier, or “white beer,” and in Swedish glogg, a type of spiced wine. In Spain, dried Seville peel is added to sweet white wine to make orange Moscatel. Seville oranges are also used to make orange cocktail bitters, an aromatic alcohol used in small quantities in mixed drinks (the most famous “bitter” is Angostura)

Finally, it has often been used for desserts. (This isn’t strange, when you think about it…consider how much we love lemon in sweets!) Sour orange pie is quite traditional in the southern United States, and Seville orange tart and cake are also popular among those with an affinity for this fruit. In Sweden and Finland, sour orange peel is used to flavor gingerbread and an unusual and ancient Finnish treat called Mammi, made of rye flour, malted rye powder, seasoned salt, and orange peel.

We hope we’ve piqued your curiosity a bit and gotten you to ponder the importance and mystique of this very ancient fruit. If you think you’d like to try the rather rare and special Seville, you may find them at your local grocery if you’re lucky—or, you can order a box from Florida Fruit Shippers.


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