It’s midwinter and there aren’t a lot of fruits in season in the Northern hemisphere, some bulbs are just beginning to peek out and a few wildflowers are starting to appear in the sun. But oranges can be found everywhere, at farmer’s markets and being sold roadside out of crates. If you’re American you probably associate oranges with California or Florida, but how did they get here?
All citrus fruits originated in the Southeast Himalayan foothills, in a region including the eastern area of India, northern Myanmar and western China. The oldest fossil resembling current major citrus groups was found in Yunnan China, and provides evidence of a common citrus ancestor *8 million years ago*. The first written evidence of the fruit appeared in China in 314.
The Moors spread the sour orange from the borders of China and India across Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa and parts of Europe after the Islamic Conquest in the 8th century. The sour orange was used by herbalists to make medicinal syrup as it was not palatable. Oil extracted from the flowers, seeds, leaves and rind lends the typical orange-like flavor. Neroli oil is derived from the flower of sour orange and is used for everything from perfume to medicine, and the scent is often cited in aromatherapy to reduce cortisol levels in the brain. Sour orange was used as condiment for salted meat and fish, and eventually preserved with sugar as a marmalade.
Moors conquered the southern part of Spain by 711 and named it Al-Andalus. Beautiful mosques were erected, such as Mesquita in Cordoba where the famous Patio de Los Naranjos, a courtyard of oranges and cypress trees, is located. The Seville orange, that we know today was brought to Spain at the end of the first millennium, and is now the standard sour orange. To this day, Seville is surrounded by orange farms and the sour orange trees outnumber every other species of tree in the city.