12 Nov 2013

Oranges are Back!

According to an orthodox botanist, when you eat an orange, you are technically eating “a ripe ovary from a flower-producing plant, seeds and everything”.

Let’s keep it simple and just say that “an orange is an orange”, as philosophers may say. We can find oranges at good prices right now, they are in season! We will talk about oranges this Full Moon.     

 

Citrus sinensis is the scientific name of the orange. They were brought to the American continent, along with lemons, by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage (1493).  It is said that, by law, every sailor on a Spanish vessel must carry 100 orange seeds with him. Ponce de León brought the first seeds to Florida c. 1513 and instructed his men to plant these seeds wherever they went. Chronicler Bernal Díaz de Castillo said he planted the first orange trees in Veracruz, Mexico back in 1518, from seeds brought from Cuba.

 

Spanish historian and writer Fernández de Oviedo arrived to Santa María la Antigua in 1514 and he explains in his Historia Natural y General de Indias (Natural and General History of the Indies) how he planted an "orange orchard". If he was the first person to bring oranges to this country, then they have been here for 490 years now!

 

Girolamo Benzoni, author of “La Historia del Mundo Nuevo” (History of the New World) (1545), says there was an abundance of “cows, pigs, oranges, lemons, cabbages, onions, lettuce, melons and other vegetables” in Old Panama City (then with approximately 20 houses).

Citrus is believed to have originated in Asia, but the origin of oranges, the most popular citrus fruit, still stirs controversy: China, India and Malaysia are good candidates.  “Domestication” of oranges began around 4,000 BC.

Those oranges we buy in Panama City…where do they come from? According to my sources at Mercado de Abastos (farmer’s market), they come mainly from Chiriquí and Coclé. Around September, oranges from Chiriquí start to appear. They are sweeter and have a vibrant color. Then, in January, they stop growing and oranges from Coclé take their place. These are more acidic, bigger and good for drinks. The variety grown by grafting (“injertada”) has a shorter harvest time, and it comes mostly from our highlands in Chiriquí.

Back in the 80’s, the estimated world production of oranges was around 50 million tons per year. By 1996, the total area planted with citrus was an estimate of 7,166,056 acres. 50 % of the global production of oranges comes from North and Central America, and also from the Mediterranean.

I have read that the chemical composition of oranges is “82% water, 5-8 % sugar, 1-2% pectin and lesser amounts of acids, proteins, essential oils and minerals”.  It is that accurate!…On a sunny day, after a long walk under the sun, a cold sweet orange, either from Chiriquí or from Coclé…or even from our grandfather’s backyard, is a physical, chemical and simple delight!

English translation by Sara I. Melo D.

Galeria de Fotos: 
Oranges, Illustration by Ologuagdi
Mandarins, which are also offered in traffic lights. Illustration by Ologuagdi.