Oranges are a round, fleshy fruit encased by a bright orange peel. The fruit generally has 10 segments inside and is surrounded by a white tissue-like substance – its rind.
The orange tree is an evergreen, flowering tree which reaches heights of between nine and 10 metres. The trees bear fruit in abundance for 50 to 80 years, though some ancient trees – thought to be centuries old – still produce crops.
The tree is believed to be of Asian origin, its ancestry said to be from east India, Southern China and Vietnam. Oranges are believed to have reached the Roman Empire by around the 1st Century BC, when Persian traders brought them across.
The Romans established orchards in North Africa to supply Mediterranean countries, and the groves soon spread from Libya to Morocco. European groves were set up, but they didn’t make it much past the collapse of the Roman Empire, When a revival of the trade began to take place in the 11th Century, it was Seville oranges that took hold. The sweet orange, in fact, played the part of bridesmaid to the Seville until the 15th Century, when Portuguese merchants delivered orange trees to the Mediterranean. The popularity of sweet oranges took hold and has remained steady ever since – in 2012 they accounted for 70% of global citrus production.
Much like it’s estranged cousin, lemon, oranges are rich in vitamin C and have been historically used to treat scurvy. During the Age of Discovery, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch sailors planted citrus tress along trade routes, and the British Navy and East India Trading Company shared a fondness for the fruit.
The question on everyone lips is of course which came first – the fruit or the colour…? Well, the name ‘orange’ is thought to have originally been derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘Nāraṅgaḥ’ and the Telugu word ‘Naringa’, which after moving through different languages, ultimately became ‘orange’ in English. The colour was named after the fruit, and the first recorded use of orange as a colour name in English was in 1512. There you go, perfect bar bore knowledge to share around on a slow night…
Orange peel, both fresh and dried, is a popular gin botanical. Typically, the peel of a Seville orange is used dry and the peel of a sweet orange is used fresh. More often than not, it is dried peel that’s used in gin, a tradition that may well hark back to the days in which Seville oranges were the only type available.
Beefeater, for example, uses a centuries old recipe, so it stands to reason that bitter oranges are part of the make-up. Our advice for new gin makers is to carefully consider the difference between fresh or dried and sweet or bitter – don’t default into one or the other by chance.
It’s also worth considering for a second the large concentrations of pesticides that have been found in orange peels grown in commercial sites. Given the oils are being leeched out into the spirit, logic dictates that so too will the pesticides. For those considering orange as a botanical, it may be worth investing in organically grown oranges, where pesticides or herbicides have not been used.
Gins where Orange is noticeable to taste:
Beefeater Gin and Warner Edwards Gin have an easily discernible orange note. While the taste of the fruit may not be abundant in the final spirit, Four Pillars Gin use different varieties in combination for their recipe – in their case Valencia and navel oranges are both placed fresh and in their entirety in their steam basket. To date, the only examples of a gin using both dried and fresh orange peel at the same time in a gin is William Chase Elegant Crisp Gin and possibly (although needs further clarification from the distiller) V2C Dutch Dry Gin.
Orange blossom, other orange hybrids (such as Blood Orange) and entire whole fresh oranges are also used by some gin distilleries but they are a less common sighting (see Tarquin’s Gin for Orange Blossom).
…as a garnish. The soft citrus taste of an orange makes a wonderful companion to a spicy or earthy gin – cassia, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and grains of paradise – are all complimented by the softer citrus. Try a wedge in your G&T, and if you find it a little overpowering, go for a thin peel, zest and discard. For orange heavy gins, try a spring of rosemary as a garnish – the two are perfect partners.
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