Orange: the amazing story of this citrus fruit

The second most consumed fruit in France after the apple, it remained rare and expensive for a long time.

The orange tree is believed to have originated in the Malay archipelago 20 million years ago, when it was still part of Asia and Australia. There are many varieties of citrus fruit from the species Citrus sinensis: bitter orange, produced by the red-fleshed rose, or blood-fleshed. Don’t forget the Navel, the star of our stalls. According to some, it is the famous golden apple of Greek mythology, a sacred fruit that Hercules (Hercules) had to steal from the garden of the Hesperides to carry out the eleventh of his twelve works.

Orange, grown by the Chinese

In the first millennium BCE, orange trees spread to Southeast Asian countries. In China, it is grown on the southern slopes of the Himalayas. Used as a medicinal plant, the orange is said to be named after the sanskrit nagarunga, which was first mentioned in a medical treatise dating back to Vedic antiquity, around the year 100. The citrus fruit will be grown in Persia, Mesopotamia and northern Africa.

Bitter orange is reported from the crusades in Europe

The bitter orange, also known as the “bigarade”, arrived in Europe at the time when the crusades (11th-13th centuries) took the Mediterranean route. Passed on from the Persians to the Arabs, the fruit first settled in Sicily, where it flourished, before spreading to the rest of the continent. But citrus fruit as we know it did not appear until the sixteenth century, when Portuguese navigators returned from the Middle Kingdom. The sweet ‘apple of China’ quickly crowds out the bitter orange.

A symbol of power in Versailles

Owing to its sweet taste and fragrance, orange is gradually conquering the rest of Europe. It became an object of luxury, and for the aristocracy, its culture symbolized power. She grows it in dedicated buildings: orangeries. Of course. Louis XIV had thousands of shrubs planted in Versailles. Their fruits are eaten in all forms .and their flowers perfume the rooms of the castle.

Orange is diffused in America by the conquistadors

In the New World, the history of this fruit is linked to the history of colonization. On his second trip to America. Christopher Columbus brought some to plant in Haiti. At the beginning of the 16th century. columnists from Santo Domingo testified: “Oranges multiplied so abundantly that now there are too many (…)”. Introduced to Florida by the Spaniards. they spread across the continent. Indeed, Brazil and the United States have become the world’s largest producers.

The citrus bible

Orange and all its cousins. From bergamot to yuzu and cédrat. the Grand livre des Citrus (Flammarion edition, €35) lists all the existing and often unsuspected varieties. such as the colorful bouquet of flowers, a bitter orange species sought after by perfumers. The author, Anne Ettore. details their origin, culture. health benefits and a thousand and one ways of accommodating them. all accompanied by testimonies from producers. agronomic engineers or passionate noses, as well as recipes from chefs or her own. A comprehensive, informative and appetizing book.


The oldest orange tree in France is just over 600 years old. It was allegedly planted by the White Queen of Navarre in Spain in 1421. Today. it measures more than 7 meters and can be seen in Versailles.

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