Blood Oranges

blood oranges sliced open
photo credit: gourmetsleuth

About

Blood oranges are juicy, sweet and have a dark red interior and are slightly less acidic than regular table oranges. Originally from Sicily, the blood orange has gained in popularity in the US and can be found fresh or in juice form in many grocery stores.

Blood Orange History

While most citrus history starts in China and Japan, it is believed that the more bitter tasting fruits were from India.  The Arabs brought this fruit from Sicily between the 11th and 12th century and taught the Sicilians their perfect irrigation techniques. About 500 years later, the monks planted sweeter varieties. Today, blood oranges constitute more than three quarters of all the citrus crop in Sicily. 

Growing Blood Oranges

We now have growers in the U.S. primarily in Texas, Florida and California but the majority of production is still in Sicily and Spain.  At this time (2019) California is the largest grower of blood oranges in the U.S.

How They Get Their Color

Blood oranges contain a pigment called anthocyanin which is not typically found in citrus but rather more common in other red fruits and flowers. Not only is the inside of the orange darkly pigmented but depending on the variety the outside may also have dark washes of red. 

Why Blood Oranges Are Good For You

Anthocyanins are potent antioxidants that are believed to  reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stave off cognitive decline, and even cancer.  You can find this antioxidant in other fruits and vegetables too.  Look for dark blue and red fruits and vegetables like red cabbage, black berries and blue berries and strawberries too.  Even eggplants contain this compound.  This is a good article on the topic if you want to read more.

Another pinkish red orange is the Cara Cara pink navel orange.  While it's a nice flavorful and visual substitute for a blood orange its color does not come from anthocyanin but from lycopene, the same compound that give tomatoes their red color.  But still, it's another pink to red orange that's good for you.

Keto Or Paleo Friendly?

In general citrus fruits are very healthful.  Sadly the Keto diet does not allow oranges on the Ketogenic plan.  On the other hand it is a perfectly Paleo friendly food. 

Varieties

The four main blood orange varieties are:

  • Tarocco -  is a fairly large orange with yellow-orange skin and flesh that can vary in color from pink to ruby red and has few seeds.  This is said to have the best flavor of all blood oranges.
  • Moro - The Moro is the most widely grown and eaten blood orange in the U.S.  It is easier to grow and more productive than some of the other varieties.  Mora is prized for it's dark red flesh.
  • Sanguigno - A smaller orange than the moro or tarocco, the Sanguigno orange is the only one with a reddish tinge to the rind and dark red to brownish pulp. Grown in Riverside, California.

Uses

Blood Orange Juice

Blood oranges are great for juicing and using as you would common orange juice. The dark red color of the juice makes it a good cocktail ingredient.  The juice can also be used to make sauces and salad dressings.

Orange Segments

If you can find more than one variety try slicing them or segmenting them and use them together is a salad; the color is amazing.  Use fresh blood orange segments in salads, sauces, sorbets, granitas and compotes. Spanish blood oranges are used in special English marmalades.

Shown here is a blood orange margarita, a specialty of Elote Cafe in Sedona, Arizona.

U.S. Seasons

  • Texas Crop - December to March 
  • California Crop - November to May

Fun Fact about Blood Oranges

Nutrition Information For Blood Oranges

Serving Size
1 tbsp
 
Calories
6
Calories from Fat
0
 
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 0mg
0%
Potassium
13g
0%
Total Carbohydrate 2g
0%
Dietary Fiber 1g
0%
Sugars 0g
Protein 0g
0%
 
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Where To Buy

Check your local grocery store or farmer's market for fresh fruits from December through May.   Juice can be purchased year round in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store.  Blood oranges are also very popular in Farmer's markets.

If you prefer to buy online visit La Vigne Organics - one of the few sources for fresh blood oranges (and juice) located in Fallbrook, California. In addition to fresh whole oranges you can purchase fresh blood orange juice and syrup.

Update: 2019. The blood orange industry in California has grown quite a bit since I originally wrote this article.  There are many sources for blood oranges online, see sources below.

Substitute For Blood Orange

  • You can substitute regular navel oranges for any recipe that calls for blood oranges but you will not get rich dark color or tangy flavor. 
  • You can also substitute the Cara Cara orange which is really a pink navel orange, not a blood orange.  The Cara Cara has a very pretty reddish pink flesh and would be a great choice for a blood orange substitute in a salad where the color is important.  Sunkist is a large producer of Cara Cara oranges so they should be easier to find.
  • Alternately, you can substitute 1 blood orange with 1-2 Mandarin oranges which are a little sweeter.
  • If you need a substitute for blood oranges in beverage you could substitute regular orange juice with a drop of red food coloring.

Sources and Credits

Culinaria Italy - Konemann

Blood Oranges - Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, article discuses varieties, some history and world production.

Pearson's Ranch - Buy a wide variety of Citrus online including blood oranges and fresh yuzu fruit and finger (fingerling) limes too!

Melissa's Produce -  Melissa's sells blood oranges online via Amazon.com. Melissa's Fresh Blood Oranges (4 lbs.)

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.