July 9, 2014: For the Love of Oranges

~by Susi Pittman

A 100% organic product IS a fruit, vegetable, egg or any other single-ingredient food.

And of these selections my favorite is the orange!

I am a descendant of a Florida Century Pioneer Family, a title given to families that have farmed or ranched in Florida for over 100 years. My great Uncle Asa Gibbons went down to Brazil in the 1800’s and brought back some of the first navel citrus stock to Polk County, Florida. The citrus groves he began and that his son George continued to manage had oranges, tangerines, satsumas, tangelos and grapefruits. I can remember walking through the groves with my grandfather, where he taught me to pull a leaf from a tree, crinkle it up between my thumb and forefinger and identify the fruit that the tree was growing by the smell of the leaf.

The orange was always my favorite! The orange IS the “sunshine” fruit no matter where in the world you may drink it.

At the turn of the 20th century, when my great uncle and grandfather grew oranges, the United States was the leading producer of fresh orange juice. Today, Brazil is the leading exporter of oranges with 83% of its product going overseas. That stands in stark contrast to the fact that 70% of the world’s total citrus production is grown in the Northern Hemisphere around the Mediterranean and in the United States.

George Gibbons and family orange groves, Polk County, Waverly, Florida, © 1909

The citrus fruits that are grown for fresh consumption come from Texas, California and Arizona with Florida the top producer of orange juice. Needless to say, I am partial to Florida orange juice produced in groves that are family owned, most of whom belong to a Growers Co-op. They package their juice 100% pure, fresh squeezed, in cartons that are recyclable and they pasteurize the fruit for optimum purity. Pasteurization is the process of heating the juice to a very high temperature for a short amount of time to kill micro-bacteria. Radiation is never used.

Many people buy orange juice as a frozen product called “orange juice concentrate.” What is the difference between orange juice from “concentrate” and fresh squeezed orange juice? It all falls to how the fruit is processed. The fresh fruit is squeezed, pasteurized and packaged. The “concentrate” is squeezed and the water is extracted. The juice is put into a freezer tolerant container for storage in the freezer section of your refrigerator, where you can use it at a later date at which time you will just add water to have that fresh squeezed taste again.

A recent study posted by the Florida Department of Citrus says, “A new study shows citrus juices provide more nutrients per calorie than other commonly consumed 100 % fruit juices such as apple, grape pineapple and prune.”

Another study published in the Journal of Food Science says, “Fruit juices vary considerably in the quantity of nutrients per calorie. The study uncovered just how much better the nutrient profiles of 100 % grapefruit and orange juice are than other commonly consumed fruit juices.”

Citrus fruit juices tended to be equal to or higher in vitamin A, thiamin, and phosphorous when compared to other juices in the analysis and there is supported evidence that organically grown oranges have 30% more vitamin C.

Many U.S. citrus growers are moving into the world of organic and sustainable agriculture. They are lessening their dependence on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The U.S. government has established strict regulations concerning organic farming, and has determined that any crop must be farmed for exactly three years without the use of unauthorized materials in order to be “certified organic.”

Perhaps the most favored fresh citrus is the Navel orange, named as such because from the outside, it looks similar to the human belly button, the navel. Historical records are mixed as to the origins of the Navel. One accounting shows that somewhere between 1810 and 1820 the first Navel orange mutated from a Selecta orange tree planted at a monastery near Bahia in Brazil. Another telling says that the Navel mutated from a Portuguese navel orange. Knowing what I know in my own family history, my money is on Brazil.

A by-product of oranges created by pressing the orange peel is called “sweet orange oil.” It is used as flavoring in food, in formulas world-wide for perfumes, as an organic element in household cleaners and as a hand cleansing agent.

The incredible orange, so organic, so beautiful and so perfect! I invite you to visit a fun site to learn more about the citrus you enjoy at Florida Orange Juice.

Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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