Citrus fruits are extremely popular, and there are many facts about citrus fruits that are surprising. The popularity of citrus fruits is easily demonstrated by the fact the orange industry alone is a multi-billion dollar industry. The taste and nutrition of oranges and other citrus keeps people coming back for more. While you know that citrus is rich in vitamin C and it makes delicious juice, there are some uncommon facts about citrus fruits that might surprise you.
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Origins of the Navel Orange
The popular navel orange originated in Brazil before 1870 from a spontaneous mutation. People adored navel oranges so much that saplings were eventually brought to California, where a woman named Eliza Tibbets cared for them. Interestingly, all of the navel oranges we have today are ancestors of the trees Tibbets cared for, and one of these trees is still standing and producing fruit! As interesting as the Eliza Tibbet’s tree is, there are other fascinating facts about citrus fruits to learn.
Most oranges are picked before they are fully ripe, when they are still green. To compensate for this, oranges are degreened. One method of degreening oranges is to dye the peel with citrus red number 2. Dying citrus peels is banned in California and Arizona, but Texas and Florida do dye their oranges. Another method of degreening is to expose the oranges to ethylene gas while they are in the warehouse. This does not ripen the oranges, but it does turn peels orange.
The Pith is Healthy
The bitter pith that most people peel off is actually one of the healthiest parts of citrus fruits! The pith has high amounts of pectin and flavones. In fact, leaving the pith on provides 400 milligrams of phytonutrients, which is much more than the 100 milligrams of phytonutrients in citrus that doesn’t have the pith.
Old Orange Juice
Orange juice is very healthy; it has many nutrients including beneficial antioxidants. However, most of the orange juice that you buy in the grocery store is old and has lost nutrients. It can sit in million-gallon containers for months because the oxygen in the tanks is removed to prevent spoiling! While the orange juice may not be spoiled, the flavor is lost and orange flavor is added. Clearly, when it comes to orange juice, fresh squeezed is best!
Grapefruits and Radiation
Grapefruits are a bitter citrus fruit, but the red varieties are sweeter than most. To get sweeter, red grapefruit researches at Texas A & M University exposed seeds to radiation in the 1950s. Exposing seeds to radiation is a quick way to mutate the genes. Some of the seeds produced red grapefruit that was sweeter and well-liked, including the Star Ruby and Rio Red Varieties.
Tangelos Are Crossbreeds
While sweet, red grapefruits are the result of radiation exposure, tangelos are the result of a gentler crossbreeding. In 1897 tangelos were created when the pollen of a tangerine blossom was applied to a grapefruit blossom. The result of this crossbreeding was the sweet and tangy tangelo.
Alexander the Great and Lemons and Limes
Lemons and limes are native to southern China and northeast India, and they remained there until the fourth century B.C.E. At that time Alexander the Great took such an interest in lemons and limes that he brought seeds from Persia to Greece. The seeds were cultivated and the fruit became popular. They were so popular that hundreds of years later Christopher Columbus brought seeds with him to Haiti!
Citrus fruits are fantastic fruits that have so much flavor. The facts regarding citrus are fascinating. I know I will never think about orange juice or red grapefruits in quite the same way. Which of these facts surprised you the most?
Robinson, Jo. Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013. Print.
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