For today’s What’s Cooking Wednesday, I’m highlighting one of my favorite winter fruits–the blood orange.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this unique orange, I highly recommend it. In fact, around here blood orange juice is the norm instead of regular old orange juice–it’s just that good.
What is a blood orange?
As its name suggests, this orange is red in color, sometimes in splotches on the outside but definitely on the inside. The concentration of the red inside depends on the particular type of orange and growing conditions.
When you squeeze it, you really get a glimpse of the blood reference as the juice will resemble more that of a cranberry than an orange.
Blood oranges are “bloody” from a pigment called anthocyanin, which is widely found in the plant kingdom and can appear red as in cherries and red cabbage to blue as in blueberries and cornflowers or even purple as in pansies and eggplants (aubergines).
Anthocyanin is reported to have many health benefits as it is a powerful antioxidant that can slow or prevent the growth of cancer cells–and even kill them. Moreover blood oranges contain high amounts of Vitamin C (up to 130% of recommended daily amount), potassium, Vitamin A, iron, calcium, and even fiber. Oranges and their juice can also help prevent the build-up of bad cholesterol as well as lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cataracts.
Where do blood oranges come from?
The blood orange originated in Sicily and Spain and varieties include Tarocco, Moro (or Morro), and Sanguinello (or Sanguigno). In fact you may hear the term “Sicilian Blood Oranges” even though they are grown in other parts of the world–including right here in Calabria. We get ours from one of P’s friends and as you can see from the above photo, these aren’t as bloody as some.
And so through the magic of shipping and distribution of seeds, you can also now find blood oranges that are grown in the United States (Texas and California), and probably anywhere else that has an appropriate climate–read: something like southern Italy.
As with many citrus fruits, these special oranges are in season right now in the northern hemisphere up until May in some parts. Stores may carry the oranges as well as already-squeezed juice, but there’s nothing like fresh-squeezed so if you can find the oranges themselves, give them a try.
You can read more about the history of the blood orange on this O’Biolla page.
What do blood oranges taste like?
Not surprisingly, blood oranges taste a lot like ordinary oranges only they’re slightly more bitter but less acidic. Some types are actually sweeter than your average orange but, I don’t know–there’s just something special about a blood orange’s flavor. An orange with a kick if you will. If anyone else can describe it better, please do!
Before we get to a simple recipe, you should know that generally blood oranges can be used just as you’d use regular oranges but they’re especially good in juices, cocktails, salads, sauces, sorbets, granitas, compotes, and marmalades.
You can apparently even buy blood orange olive oil.
A quick search for “blood orange recipes” will lead to great places, but here is something I whipped up this morning to give a little something special to my favorite chocolate cake. I *love* chocolate and orange flavors together and I had a feeling that the tangy zip of a blood orange would go great with this chocolate cake made with coffee.
And I was right.
Blood Orange Buttercream Frosting
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons blood orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons butter
zest from blood orange
This recipe makes quite a bit so you might want to cut it in half or even a quarter depending on how much you plan on using–and be sure to taste test for how much orange flavor you want in it. As a general rule, add more confectioner’s sugar to thicken, more juice to thin it out.
Have you tried blood oranges? What do you think? What do you do with them?