Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bitter Orange

The plant for Fructidor 26 in the French Republican calendar is bigarade, bitter orange.

One of the great joys of this Plant of the Day blog is learning about plants that would never otherwise come to my attention and this is certainly the case today as I had no idea what a bitter orange was.

This Wikipedia article provides a great introduction:
The species name is citrus aurantium, subspecies amara (which means bitter). It’s native to South Vietnam but is grown in Central and South America (particularly the West Indies and Brazil) and in Mediterranean countries, especially Sicily and Southern France.

According to this perfume web site, it was imported from China into India, Syria and Egypt and brought to Europe by the Crusaders. One of the most famous bitter orange trees grows in the garden of the convent of St Sabina in Rome:

It is also sometime known as the Seville orange. The tree has glossy leaves, wicked thorns and small orange fruits that are bitter tasting. See the comments at Dave’s Garden:

This academic article also contains some information about the plant:

The tree is often used as grafting stock for other citrus fruit. The flowers when distilled produce neroli essential oil and a hydrosol known as orange flower water. An oil made from the leaves and shoots is called petit grain. The fruit, though bitter, has more pectin than sweet oranges, and thus makes a great marmalade. The peels are used to make the liqueur Curacao (named after the island on which the bitter oranges grow) and to flavor Triple Sec.

The Bergamot orange, which produces the famous bergamot oil, used in perfume and tea is a variety of citrus aurantium. So is chinotto, citrus aurantium, myrtifolia, the myrtle-leaved orange tree native to Italy. And China has its own citrus aurantium, varieity dadai, the fruits of which are used in Chinese medicine and to celebrate Japanese new year (in much the way Westerners put oranges in Christmas stockings, as symbols of wealth and the sun).

Here’s a recipe for bitter orange marmalade from Greece:

And here’s a recipe for crispy duck salad with bitter orange vinaigrette from Rachel Ray:

According to Mrs. Grieve, in Grasse the blossoms are candied. Doesn’t that sound delicious?

Mandy Aftel says that orange blossom oil can be purchased in most Middle Eastern stores. It should be used with butter or cream to reinforce its flavor. She recommends adding a few drops of neroli oil to a sorbet. Or mixing orange flower water with honey and drizzling it over yogurt or splashing it on apples before baking them in an apple pie.

Medicinal Properties
This website lists an interesting number of medicinal uses from around the world:
The primary use seems to be as an aid in digestion, as seen in the summary at Plants for a Future:

Mr.s Grieve, surprisingly, has little to say about it as a medicine, except to warn against imbibing wine of bitter orange mixed with absinthe.

In America, it was marketed as an appetite suppressant after ephedrime was taken off the market. But because it contains synephrine, a stimulant similar to ephedrine, it can be dangerous.

Aftel, Mandy and Daniel Patterson, Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food and Fragrance, Artisan (Workman) 2004

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