Alan Tangren: The sweet color of oranges |

Alan Tangren: The sweet color of oranges

Dear Alan: I know there are Valencia oranges for juice, and Navel oranges that are easy to peel and eat. But I’d like to know more about the other oranges I see in the market.

Alan: I’m trying to think of another fruit or vegetable named for a color, but I can’t. Oranges of all kinds bring color, fragrance and flavor at a welcome time of the year.

The season for mandarin oranges and tangerines starts in the fall and continues through mid-spring. Mandarin oranges made their way around the world from their ancestral home in China. The name tangerine originally referred to mandarins growing near Tangiers, Morocco. But now the names are used almost interchangeably.

We are fortunate to be near two important mandarin growing regions. The area around Lincoln, Newcastle and Loomis is home to many mandarin orchards that welcome visitors during the harvest season starting in early November.

A good source for organic mandarins, the Johansen Ranch, grows Satsuma mandarins near Orland. You can usually find them at local markets this time of year.

Clementines, one of my favorites, ripen after Satsuma. These flavorful mandarins were first identified in North Africa. They have smooth, bright red-orange skin and juicy, richly flavored flesh. Modern clones are medium in size and have few seeds. You should also try Dancy, available by Christmas, and Page and Pixie even later in the season.

Many mandarins have loose skin that is easy to peel, so they are ideal for a quick snack.

Tangelos are hybrids of mandarins and grapefruit. They are the size of an orange or larger, and have thin easily peeled skin that tapers to a distinct neck at the stem end. They have a bright red-orange skin and tender flesh that is refreshingly tart. Their juice makes a nice change from that of regular oranges. Minneola, my favorite variety, ripens from winter to early spring

The season for navel oranges peaks from late fall through early spring. They are easily identified by the belly button on the blossom end. Navels are the classic eating orange.

The thick peel comes off easily, and the segments are easy to pull apart. They are almost always seedless. They are richly flavored and have an ideal balance of sweet and tart.

Navels don’t make good juice because of the large amount of pulp they have, and the juice can turn bitter soon after juicing. Cara Cara is a type of navel with deep pink flesh.

The aptly-named blood oranges are around from late December through early spring.

Blood oranges are often used in salads and desserts because of their bright red coloring. They have a most interesting flavor as well – tart and rich, with hints of raspberry.

Moro and Tarocco are the most common varieties grown in California. Moro have the reddest flesh and are in full season in midwinter. The earliest harvested may be too tart to enjoy, and the late harvest can be musky — go for January and February.

Tarocco have more orange color mixed into the flesh. Around from January to April, they are larger in size and have wonderful flavor.

Blood oranges make beautiful juice, and a colorful mimosa!

Valencia oranges, known for their abundance of delicious juice, are most commonly available from February through September.

Shopping tips are similar for all oranges. In the market look for fruit that has smooth skin — there can be quite a range of texture even in one bin- — it often means a thinner skin and more juice.

Fruit should be firm, but not hard. Avoid soft citrus, although some mandarins have loose skin and my feel puffy, they will still be good.

Avoid any oranges with dark or watery looking areas. That’s the precursor to getting moldy. If I do find a moldy orange in a store display, I always try to tell the produce manager, as mold will spread quickly.

Slices of oranges or segments add interest add welcome tartness to fruit salad or compotes. Make an upside-down cake with overlapping slices of blood orange instead of pineapple.

It is easy turn orange juice into sorbet by adding a little sugar and spinning it in your ice cream freezer. For example, use about 1 cup sugar dissolved in the juice from 4 – 5 pounds of tangerines. For more flavor, grate the peel from one of the tangerines before juicing, and add to the mixture before freezing.

Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill Street in Grass Valley. Learn more at Contact him at

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