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Do You Know What Color a Ripe Orange is?

Many people who read this question would probably be inclined to say, “Duh! Orange, of course!” Would it surprise you to learn that this isn’t always correct?

There are many subspecies or cultivars of oranges in the world. In quite a few of these, the fruit is green when the orange is ripe. They never turn the color orange.

Part of the confusion is that many people think that the citrus fruit was named after the color. It wasn’t. The common name of the fruit comes from a Sanskrit word: “Naranja”. Naranja means “fragrant”. It isn’t totally clear if this was a reference to the blossoms or to the fruit since both are highly fragrant.

However, oranges first started showing up in Europe several centuries before “orange” was used to describe the color combination of red and yellow that we know as orange. 

The oranges sold in America, and most of those grown in America, are orange for a reason, though. People here tend to associate ‘green’ with being unripe, even though that isn’t necessarily true in the case of oranges. Producers will often go so far as to insert orange die into the orange in order to give it the bright orange color so people will buy it. In other words, the reason virtually all oranges in the US are orange is because of a marketing ploy.

In a number of other countries, such as India, green oranges aren’t particularly unusual in the marketplace.

  • Did you know that not all ripe oranges were orange?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I’ve eaten ripe green oranges

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Written by Rex Trulove

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20 Comments

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        • I know that various places have done that with different fruit trees, usually for economic reasons. Normally, though, it is only a few years before the replace the trees with something else. Are they not making any effort to replace all those dead citrus trees with something else, in CA?

          A decade or so, that happened with citrus trees in Florida, though it wasn’t on purpose. They had temperatures that dropped so much that it killed hundreds of acres of citrus orchards. Later, new citrus trees were planted to replace the dead ones. The one positive that came of it (not positive to anyone, but it was to citrus growers) was that the price of citrus shot up that winter, so the growers that were able to save their crops made a lot more money for their produce. In the northern US, the prices for citrus still haven’t gone down to the point they were at when the big freeze occurred.

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          • The orchards I mentioned got their water from the Delta. Since the drought, water has been cut back to these areas. No crops will be planted. and some farmers just walked away, leaving dead trees and not cutting them down. It is now a fire hazard. I remember the big freeze in Florida. It actually froze here too that year.

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        • Of course, they have always been able to manipulate markets to a degree. One example is pomegranates. Here in the north, where they don’t grow, a pomegranate the size of a hardball sells for over a dollar. Years ago, when I went through Southern California on a trip from Oregon to Tennessee, we stopped at the San Jose flea market. I bought several pomegranates that were so large they were splitting and about twice as big as a softball for a nickel apiece.

          I found out later that if we’d been there longer, it wouldn’t have been difficult to get large pomegranates for nothing, just by asking people if they’d mind if we got them off their pomegranate plants. They were apparently a common plant that many people grew in their yards.

          Right now, we can get nice softball-sized pomegranates, but they aren’t cheap and they still aren’t as big as the ones that were sold in San Jose.

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          • Some of the farmers swear this is what happened. Politics and that there is enough water for them, and it just goes to San Francisco Bay. Awe, you get such small pomegranates. Yes, there are a lot of trees in back yards here.

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