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Japanese Bitter Oranges
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|Mud Creek Ranch|
Japanese Bitter oranges are small to medium in size, averaging 2-5 centimeters in diameter, and are round to oblate in shape. The rind has a downy coating that creates a fuzzy texture and is firm, transforming from green to yellow when mature. Underneath the surface of the rind, there is a white pith that clings to the flesh and is spongy with a cotton-like feel. The flesh is aromatic containing many cream-colored seeds and is divided into 9-10 segments by thin, white membranes. Japanese Bitter oranges are very acidic and have a bitter, sour lemon flavor with Earl Grey nuances.
Japanese Bitter oranges are available in the late winter through early spring.
Japanese Bitter oranges, botanically classified as Poncirus trifoliata, are small, sour fruits that grow on deciduous, thorn-laden trees that can reach over six meters in height and are members of the Rutaceae family. Also known as the Hardy orange, Trifoliate orange, Flying Dragon Bitter orange, and Chinese Bitter orange, Japanese Bitter oranges are different from other citrus varieties and are not considered “true citrus,” but are one of the few hardy orange varieties suited for colder climates. Japanese Bitter oranges are popular ornamental trees in Asia and North America, used for their unusual twisted, tightly woven branches, and are also favored for their hardiness, being used as parent fruit in breeding new citrus and being one of the oldest varieties of rootstock used in the citrus industry today.
Japanese Bitter oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C and flavonoids, and also contain calcium, phosphate, vitamin A, and thiamine.
Japanese Bitter oranges have an extremely sour flavor and are best suited for juicing, candying, and simmering. Like the Seville orange, the exceptionally tart juice of the Japanese Bitter orange makes it generally less desirable for use as a fresh eating orange. To balance the sour flavors, the rind can be candied or dried and ground into a powder for extended use as a seasoning. The fruit can also be made into marmalade, syrup, jams, and jellies due to its high pectin content. In addition to cooked applications, Japanese Bitter oranges can be juiced and used to flavor fruit drinks such as citrus-ade and cocktails, or it can be used to flavor ice cream. The fruit will keep up to two weeks when stored at room temperature and up to a month when stored in the refrigerator.
In Japan, Japanese Bitter oranges are used as the primary rootstock for satsuma mandarins, the country’s main export. It has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine to reduce symptoms associated with colds, toothaches, and itchy skin. In North America, the Japanese Bitter orange tree has been celebrated as a landscaping hedge that is used as a barrier for property lines and to keep animals out of gardens. The dense, twisting branches bear long thorns that prohibit intruders and is hardy, allowing the branches to be trimmed into compact shapes.
Japanese Bitter oranges are native to Northern China and Korea and were then introduced to Japan sometime before the 8th century. In the late 1800s, Japanese Bitter oranges were introduced to North America and became one of the most popular rootstocks for other citrus varieties in California. Today Japanese Bitter oranges are found growing in the wild and in home gardens in Japan, Korea, China, Australia, Argentina, and the United States.