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Those tasteless, juiceless navel oranges

Okay, I'm in Canada. So my local/seasonal fruit options are limited most of the year (I eat plenty of local apples year-round, and hit the farmer's markets in season).

But in the dead of winter, I need something other than bananas and stored apples. While it seems ridiculous to buy oranges from as far afield as South Africa, there is of course no local citrus, and I don't really see Florida citrus around either.

It seems to me up until the past few years, oranges were pretty much guaranteed to have some flavour and juice. Some better than others of course, but always edible.

But in recent years, more and more often, I peel a thick-skinned navel orange and can immediately tell that it has NO chow value. Inedible. Devoid of juice, resulting in weird dry texture, and tasteless.

I've pretty much given up buying oranges as a result. Do I need to shop the ethnic markets and get the thin-skinned, greenish oranges which seem more reliable, but I guess aren't pretty enough for the mainstream grocery?

Any other tips, tricks, rants...?

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  1. I've gotten into the habit of only buying cara cara oranges when the navels are available ..these are usually quite a step above the regular navels

    1 Reply
    1. re: Hue

      I've tried to like cara cara oranges, but I find them to be bland -- I think they're too low acid for my taste, part of the whole trend of varietal fruits with less acid and more sugar.

    2. Worse yet is paying a premium for an orange that has an inch thich pith. I actually think it would be worthwhile ordering them from Florida in season.


      1 Reply
      1. re: monavano

        My research as a gardener says that a heavy pith is a sign of overfertilization.

      2. Florida? The vast majority of Florida oranges end up in commercial grade juice... California grows the U.S. oranges that are typically eaten. Oranges have gotten crappy... I used to work for an Ag company that grew & processed lots & lots of oranges... and have some insight. Over the last decades... the Orange groves of Orange County (The OC.. dude)... have been torn down to make space for residential & commercial craprchitected developments... now the bulk of Orange production is in the Central Valley which has a bit more extreme weather than Southern California.... predictably Global Warming with its strange & unintuitive results has steadily increased the number of freezing days in the Central Valley over the last decade... and the quality of oranges has payed the price.

        Although I should mention that another trend has been the increased exports to China & Japan... such that a super premium export grade of Oranges was created and it tends to steal the best fruit. When I worked there... one of our big projects was a machine that could insert a very, very small probe into each Orange to test for sweetness, acidity, brix etc.,... as far as I know the machine wasn't fine tuned yet... but it did narrow the lots down enough so that humans with good noses (poorly paid, immigrant women usually over 40) could spot the likely sweet ones & pack those in the premium export containers. Even without that step... after the washing & waxing step.... there was a Sorting machine than used a laser scanner & scale to calculate blemishes, color, size, weight & density in a very short amount of time... its not surprising that lower density fruit (the kind that is almost always dry & without juice) ends up being in the less lucrative domestic market (including Canada).

        The Orange might be my favorite fruit... so forgive me for rambling on... but I remember clearly it was the Summer of 1992 the great year of the Chilean orange deluge.... we would buy 50 pound sacks from a truck that would park on our street (East L.A.)... for $10... and I swear you could squeeze a 12oz glass of juice... out of 3 or 4 oranges... and they were such a deep orange color & so sweet... I could have sworn I was in Mexico. Unfortunately... Chile ended up signing export agreements with the EU & Japan.... and we now have to compete for the great fruit... against the EU & Japan which have a higher Cost of Living (and thus can pay more money for it).

        Among those bogus things of North American politics.... despite NAFTA... the U.S. still puts restrictions on Mexican oranges as they pander to the California & Florida citrus lobbies. So for now I just have to look forward to my next trip to Mexico Lindo y Querido for a decent glass of OJ.

        17 Replies
        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          Sure, Florida. We get fabulous oranges when we visit my in-laws down there. But, thanks for the interesting history lesson.

          1. re: monavano

            Yep, I've had amazing oranges when visiting my family down there in November-March. And Dad sends me a box every year of the sweetest, juicest oranges you could ever want.

            I've pretty much given up on eating oranges out of season. Apples too.

            1. re: Chris VR

              Chris- try Wilson Farms for oranges- my mom swears by them. I am not a big orange person- but I LOVE their red grapefruits. Not always available, but I always but a bunch when they are. This week I am hoping they have thier own grown butternut- time to stock up for the winter!!

              1. re: macca

                Thanks! I have GOT to get there. Wonder where the oranges are from?

                1. re: Chris VR

                  No idea- but I am going there tomorrow, and will see if they will tell me.

              2. re: Chris VR

                Just talked to Dad, and he tell me this: In Florida, Navels are in season November-January. The oranges he thinks are best are Honeybelles and they have a short season, only a few weeks in January. Then Valencias are in season Feb-May. He always ships his oranges from Snell Groves, just outside of Tampa. The website seems to be offline but the URL is www.snellgroves.com and you can see his catalog at http://web.archive.org/web/2005020605...
                The phone number is 1-800-393-1999

                Fred J Snell Groves
                8821 Ridge Rd, New Port Richey, FL

            2. re: Eat_Nopal

              I only supposed Florida might have good oranges because I've seen posters talk about ordering citrus from there. All of what you say makes sense and is very interesting.
              So, I think I need to smell my oranges (my nose is pretty good for tomatoes at least), and make sure to have some OJ when I go to Mexico next month. I'm usually preoccupied by more exotic fruits there so this is a great tip. Thanks.

              1. re: julesrules

                Yup... getting OJ shouldn't be hard most hotels offer fresh squeezed (although its very early in the season)... and in urban areas you will find street vendors setting up along the routes people walk to work...

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Gees time goes by quick... its going to be November already! There should be plenty of good Oranges by the time you get there.

                2. re: julesrules

                  I forgot to mention... that you should descreetly pierce the skin a little bit prior to sniffing. The floral aspect of Orange zest is very powerful so it takes some practice to detect the sweet tones... I have never gotten good at it myself.

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    Pierece the skin? Eeww. So the person who ultimately buys that orange gets the added benefit of all the bacteria from the piercing (presumably with a fingernail - who shops with a clean paring knife?).

                    1. re: CynD

                      You don't have to get through the skin... also I am assuming you will have filtered through them via the density criteria... hence your chances of buying them would be very high.

                  2. re: julesrules

                    Florida does have good oranges. With all due respect to my now-fellow Californians, I moved from Tampa Bay to San Jose about five years ago, and while I like many things out here more, the oranges are not among them. Florida's may well mostly be for 'commercial juicing,' but, well, the commercial juices there taste better than the commercial juices here. And so did the non-commercial juices.

                    I'm not sure where would be a good place to order from. Many years ago I lived near Albritton Fruit in Sarasota, Florida, and I know they're still around, but I have to suspect most places that ship fruit as 'gift baskets' are overpriced.

                    1. re: Chipotle

                      Most citrus loves heat and sun. The more, the better. Grapefruits require the most to attain sweetness - this is why Texas has a great rep for their grapefruits. I live in the coastal region of LA - we have a naval orange tree in our backyard that produces two crops a year. The winter crop is almost always sweet and juicy, while the early summer crop is usually watery to pretty good. My assumption is that as long as the crop gets a healthy dose of sunshine and a reasonable amount of heat during the first four monthes of growth, the fruit attains its sweetness. I used to baby the tree making sure it got plenty of feedings and water which ultimately produced so-so results. An old-timer down the street told me to leave it alone - only water it occasionally and deep - never feed it unless it shows signs of iron deficiency. After following his advice, it's worked most of the time. Citrus trees are tough customers - they can tolerate alot of neglect - in fact seem to thrive on it. Maybe citrus growers in CA are giving their trees too much love?

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      Interesting reply, however, as a Florida citrus grower, I feel the necessity to set the record straight. You indicated that most Florida oranges end up in commercial grade juice, as if to imply they were inferior to California. To the contrary, the reason why 90% of the processed citrus industry is located in Florida is because the fruit contains higher amounts of sugar and juice than California: simply put, Florida fruit is sweeter. The growing conditions that produce this sweeter fruit (higher rainfall, gulfstream breezes, humidity) also produce fruit with more surface blemishes, which makes it much harder to grow fruit from Florida for the fresh market, where consumers demand fruit with little to no blemishes. So, contrary to your post, the only reason that California fruit is found fresh more is the growing environment which produces more blemish free fruit, not because the fruit is sweeter or of a finer eating quality. The highest grade fruit from Florida is also exported, or is sold as mail order/internet gifts.

                      1. re: balexanderbrown

                        totally agrre. jfood stopped buying cali navels years ago. if jfood does not see a grown in FL lable on the fruit, he does not buy it. there is absolutely no comparison.

                        keep up the good work. A little green and blemishes on the outside are no issue to jfood.

                    2. I live in the Boston area, and, like you, the supermarkets have not so good oranges out of season. I was able to find a local farm that has plentiful supplies of fruits, vegatable, bakery items, meats, cheese, etc. DOnt' know who they use for their oranges ( obviously not local!), but I bought some for my mother ( she loves oranges), and she said they were the best oranges she had ever eaten. Their red grapefruits are incredible, too. I wonder if there is any local famrs in your area like this. I have completely given up on the supermarkets for any of my produce- and make treks to the farmstand instead.

                      1. I try to buy local produce too (easier in CA than in Canada!), but navel oranges are an ideal fruit for a bag lunch since they don't get smooshed (unlike bananas or pears). I've bought oranges three times in the last week or so and a few were juicy and good, others dry and tasteless. It's frustrating because they're expensive and all look pretty much the same. I wish I could tell the difference.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Glencora

                          Density is the key. A little secret... hit the ethnic markets... the uglier, blemished oranges sell at a discount (and are just as likely... if not more likely to be sweet & juicy). At the very worst... for the same amount of dough... you can get 2 or 3 times as many oranges... giving you a better chance of finding the good ones.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            That's right, the way to pick good oranges in the supermarket is to only pick ones that feel heavy for their size. If you don't find a heavy one after 4 or 5 tries, put them down and walk away.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              All of that is interesting, but IMO Calfornia has never produced a decent naval orange ... and I moved to the state in the 1980's. The growing conditions aren't right and never were ... or it is a different variety.

                              When I first moved to the state I was appalled by the oranges having grown up on the East Coast which usually sold Florida oranges.

                              No one has mentioned Texas oranges which are right up there with Florida fruit. It is the one fruit I won't usually buy locally and always go for Texas / Florida fruit. And Valencia oranges ... ick ... is there really a reason for them.

                              I haven't had that much more luck, even less, with ugly oranges at ethinic markets. They are just cheaper, not better. However, living in CA the reason might be that they are all grown locally.

                              My suggestion is just buying a fruit that is heavy for its size. A light orange is a dry orange.

                              To the OP, have you posted on your local board asking about stores in your area that sell good oranges?

                              1. re: rworange

                                Valencias are terrible eating oranges but good for juice.
                                We're so used to seeing oranges in stores year round that we've forgotten that they really are seasonal and to a pretty great extent, they grow better in some places than others. Oranges from Texas and the Gulf South to Florida IMO are much more flavorful than CA oranges.
                                Here's a quick primer on citrus. Just remember that it's from Sunkist, a California/Arizona growers' coop so it doesn't apply to Florida. http://foodservice.sunkist.com/produc...

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  Oh no they aren't- my favorite oranges are my MIL's Valencias. I don't juice them mostly, I cut them into wedges and let that sweet-tart full flavor roll.

                                2. re: rworange

                                  Appreciate the suggestion but it's just not something I want to go out of my way for - part of the appeal is ease. They were never my favourite fruit but an old reliable, ya know? And they just aren't anymore.
                                  I do have a variety of cheap, interesting produce stores in my area along with some fancier stores so I am going to pay closer attention this winter. For one thing I'm not sure we even get California oranges. And maybe the ones we get from the Southern Hemisphere are basically out of season in our winter, when I naturally turn to citrus, so even worse quality.

                                  1. re: julesrules

                                    That may be the problem. I haven't bought a supermarket orange in a few decades because they rarely have any taste. But I have a lot of good produce stores like Berkeley Bowl. The thing with oranges is they last forever in the crisper bin in the fridge so for me I can do one stop every few months and I'm set.

                            2. Hi julesrules,

                              I feel the same way as you do. My mom makes orange juice every day from fresh oranges she buys, and lately she is complianting about how little juice and flavor the orange juice is. It is not just the lack of sweetness, but also the citrus flavor. It is so sad!

                              I also noticed that some 4lb bag oranges are labeled "color added". Does anyone know what that mean? Do they add color to the skin? the flesh? It sounds so scary!

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: kobetobiko

                                Yes, I believe that they dye the outside of the orange to actually make it orange, since many oranges are closer to a yellow / green, IIRC. I really wish they wouldn't; it's completely unnecessary.

                                1. re: vorpal

                                  Some oranges have always been dyed orange. I remember as a little kid being told by my dad that oranges were often picked green and then dyed orange to make them look pretty. Googling around I didn't find that but I did find this cool info from Tony Tantillo

                                  "citrus fruit from tropical areas will often still have a green rind because it takes cool nights for the bright color to set. Most of Florida's oranges are turned into juice because its warmer, humid climate can leave their rind with a green tinge. Although their juice is sweeter than those grown in California's cooler evenings and lower humidity, California's climate produces a more attractive looking fruit with higher acid levels ...

                                  It goes on to talk about Valencias that re-green near the stem when chlorophyll returns to the peel, so Florida and Texas growers will dye them to make them attractive and live up to their name ... the "color added" stamp is to notify people with food allergies of the addition of the dye.

                                  Anyway, very good article about the history of the orange ... the first person to plant an orange tree in California was laughed at ... people didn't think oranges would ever sell.

                                  There are also tips for selecting oranges, some of which I never knew
                                  - Navel oranges with smaller navels are better than those with large navals which indicate being picked when over ripe
                                  - a lighter color can indicate dryer pulp and thicker skin
                                  - the skin should be shiny and free of blemishes
                                  - select oranges that are heavy for their size and full of juice.

                                  There's also some good info about a few varieties of oranges.


                                  1. re: rworange

                                    You know, I really do not like when these companies use these tricky techniques to make things look "better". Have you realized that on the Tropicana carton-sized OJ, there is no longer the word "Not from Concentrated"? While it did not say the OJ is from concentrated juice, not putting that line there makes me wonder if they are fresh squeezed without dilution (also it has become "fresh squeezed taste" rather than "fresh squeezed" on the package...)

                                    1. re: kobetobiko

                                      I hadn't noticed that, but I'm definitely going to look next time I'm at my grocery store.

                                      Sadly, this seems to be the trend with better quality products: get shoppers hooked and then slowly start cheaping out. Breyer's did it with their natural line: in their vanilla ice cream, they used to use only milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla, I believe, but then one day I bought a tub and noticed that they had started adding carrageenan, vegetable gums, and, IIRC, milk ingredients, which are the things I was precisely trying to avoid in the first place by buying Breyer's. So disappointing, and I'm not sure how they can still justify the "natural" labeling.

                                      1. re: vorpal

                                        That drives me nuts too. The catch is that the stuff is derived from "natural" ingredients, like seaweed in the case of carrageenan, and it's approved by the FDA. There's all sorts of additives and colorings that are approved. All natural. Even if you go to the "purest" natural food health store, you'll find things derived from the same sources so it's hard to know where to start drawing lines. The only thing you can do is not buy any processed foods at all. I just keep reading labels.

                                        1. re: vorpal

                                          Oh no! I didn't notice that about Breyers! The last time I looked at the label (admittedly a long time ago) I did remember seeing just milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla, and I was thinking finally there are some labels with all the ingredient names that I can understand! That's indeed a sad story...

                                          1. re: kobetobiko

                                            I always read ingredient lists because of a health condition that requires me to be diligent about avoiding certain things... but after I've read a product's list once, I generally assume that it's going to stay the same and I don't think to check it again every time I buy it! With Breyer's, though, I remember a couple years back suddenly noticing a bit of a difference in taste and texture... lo and behold, it wasn't my imagination. *grumble* Sucks because I really used to like them a lot and found the price to be decent for the quantity and quality.

                                            I'm now sticking with Haagen Dazs... at least their vanilla and strawberry flavours are completely natural, I believe.

                                            1. re: vorpal

                                              There are about six different varieties of Breyer's vanilla. Dumb, huh? Seems to me at least one of them is nothing but "the Real Deal." I hate that they put stuff in them just like you do so I read labels every time. I think Edy's and Breyer's may have some that don't have "extra" unwanted stuff. I'm really picky about my vanilla ice cream. Take you reading glasses and down vest to the freezer at the grocery and start checking ingredients lists. And then call them and complain!!!!

                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                Ahhhh... no idea. Up here in Canada, in the black box "natural" line, there are only two types of Breyer's vanilla, and they're both loaded with crud. They used to only have one back about three or four years ago, and it was all natural.

                                                I always read the ingredient lists, and on ice cream, it's often just *way* too depressing! That's why I tend to stick with Haagen Dazs. The taste isn't the best, IMO, but it's the *only* one that isn't chemically.

                                  2. re: kobetobiko

                                    Agreed - it's not just sweetness I'm looking for either. Although it does help.

                                  3. The original Washington Navel orange tree still grows as a land mark in Riverside, California. The so called Inland empire of Southern California grew premium navel oranges that is rarely seen in the markets these days. There prime crop of houses and asphalt has covered the rich sandy loam soil. The few groves that are left are far past their prime and should have been replanted or re-grafted years ago but present owners are not citrus farmers but doctors and lawyers investing in land. You may never see the prime navel orange on the market again. It is a thing of the past along with eatable tomatoes.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: nativecuisine

                                      Erm, eatable tomatoes are very much alive and well (and growing in my garden!)

                                    2. I have pretty much given up on oranges here in Canada -- grapefruits only.
                                      Once in a rare while I get some amazing orange slices at a chinese restaurant but it's so rare and random. Just enough to taunt me to remember how good those cases of Red River oranges from elementary school used to be

                                      1. FWIW... I just had two great navel oranges... sweet & juicey with nice acidity... both bore the Sunkist logo (which as I understand doesn grown any oranges... its just a marketing co-op).... and both were from South Africa (purchased from Whole Foods a week or two ago).

                                        1. Three years later I have switched almost entirely to clementines. Gotta be Moroccan (not Chinese), and I start buying around Christmas and stop before the season ends - the early and late ones are not so good; but when at their peak, they are reliably great and I eat 'em like candy. They provide the mid-winter citrus freshness I crave.

                                          1. If you want to make sure that the oranges on sale at the market are sweet and juicy, simply ask the produce guy to cut one open for you. Any large store will do this. If the quality is low then pass them by, buy if they are sweet and juicy. I have noticed that if the price of oranges seems pretty low then there is a reason for it. You can ask the produce guy to do this with almost any fruit and they should be happy to help you. If you get home and the oranges are dry and tatsteless, simply take them back to the store and get a refund. Make sure you keep the receipt until you have sampled the fruit. I have never been in a store that will not do this. It might embarrass some people, but I am not going to pay for fruit that is inedible and you should not either.

                                            1. I couldn't agree more. Even so-called good navel oranges are bland and insipid to me, and I live in AZ, where there's lots of citrus. Give me a nice, full-flavored, sweet-tart little Valencia any old day. My MIL has Valencia trees, she doesn't like them, she likes the insipid navels. I could scream.

                                              1. Can you try tangerines or clemantines instead? I find they have more taste and i have even purchased tangerine juice and enjoyed it very much .