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The Spanish Legacy of Fruit: The Moors and The Orange

Who introduced the orange to Spain?

Earlier civilisations than the Moors had seen the introduction of the orange to Spain and the cultivation of them had already started in many areas of Asia. The Romans too had cultivated them in conquered areas of Africa. However, when the Empire fell in the 5th century and the sacking began, trade between the continents and Europe failed to see the orange. It was reintroduced by the Moors centuries later after they overthrew the unpopular reign of the Visigoths in Spain.

Their advanced irrigation techniques (as mentioned in “Moorish Influence on Spanish Life”) helped them to populate the groves with the fruit described by the Greek Legends as the “Golden Apple” given to Hera on her wedding day to Zeus. The name for this famous fruit derives from the Moorish Sanskrit word “Narangah” and evolved into the English word “orange” used today.

How many different types of orange are there?

There are two scientific classifications of the orange which can be broken down into bitter and sweet. The bitter orange is the fruit the Moors first introduced and is more commonly known today as the Seville orange. The bitter orange is not an edible fruit and in the time of the Moors it was mainly used for religious, marital and medicinal purposes as well as flavourings in drinks. Today this orange is mainly exported to Britain where they use it to make marmalade based on a recipe that first appeared in a cookbook back in 1587. There is very little marmalade made in Spain itself.

What are the most common varieties?

It was Christopher Columbus and the Conquistadors that introduced the orange to the New World over five centuries ago. The Valencia variety is one of the sweetest and this fruit besides Spain is also grown in the US and South America for processing into juice: one of America’s listed commodities and quoted on their stock exchange. Navel oranges are a mutated species and this variety was discovered in Brazil and is specifically unique due to its form. The Sanguin – the blood orange is most common in Spain and Italy and is commonly used for juicing as well as being enjoyed as a whole fruit.

What health benefits does the orange contain?

The orange has plenty of good stuff in it, packed full of vitamin C, ascorbic and folic acid, vitamin B6, antioxidants, pectin (which is also extracted from apple) and dietary fibre as well as lots of minerals.

The vitamin C alongside these other properties can prevent the damage from free radicals that can cause cancer inside the body. It can also reduce the effects that these radicals have towards inciting asthma, rheumatism and osteoarthritis. The antioxidants dissolve build of cholesterol delaying serious health problems such as heart attack and stroke. Also diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cholera and diabetes can also be prevented as well as reducing the anxiety of gallstones.

The healthiest part of the orange lies in the rind (epicarp) which is often discarded in the process of juicing. Well cleaned oranges can be grated and the zest used to flavour many different types of food preparation. There are many tasty recipes on the internet using this much neglected part of the fruit: an ideal way of getting the vitamin C content you need as well as tantalising the taste buds with increased flavour. Some alcohol brands also use the zest in their liquors.

How do you grow an orange?

Unlike the olive tree which is written about in my other article ” The Romans and The Olive ” – the orange tree is not as robust and is susceptible to many diseases as well as frost, so careful knowledge of cultivation has to be used. Also most commercial oranges that are globally transported have to be able to survive the journey and the hardiest versions are those that come from grafted trees.

Seeds for these trees are produced into established seedlings (rootstock) and these are then grafted onto a budwood from an existing tree which determines the variety. This method of cultivation also helps selective reproduction such as size of tree, productivity as well as sustainability. However, this does affect the quality but produces oranges that otherwise may not be available to those countries that cannot produce them.

Besides juice, marmalade and the whole fruit, what else can we use an orange for?

These are the most often used forms of an orange, the blossom is used for perfume, and to make tea in Spain. Hives situated in orange groves can give the honey its distinctive flavour. The wood from the orange tree is used to make the sticks called cuticle pushers for manicurists as well as flavouring barbecues by burning it as fuel. The rind can also be used as a slug repellent.

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