It's perhaps somewhat surprising that this sunniest of fruits is at its best during the bleakest of months - during the winter, oranges supplied to the UK from southern Europe (particularly Spain) are high in quality and low in price.
Apart from forming an integral component in an unlimited number of delicious juices, oranges can be utilised in sauces for savoury dishes and in fabulous desserts where they form a heavenly match with chocolate.
Oranges are thought to have their origin in a sour fruit growing wild in the region of South West China and North East India as early as 2,500 BC. For thousands of years these bitter oranges were used mainly for their scent, rather than their eating qualities.
The Romans brought the fruit to Europe and later oranges were spread to Spain by the Moorish conquests in the eight and ninth centuries. The sweet orange familiar to us today probably developed somewhat later.
The fruit arrived in Central America with Columbus in 1493 and soon afterwards the Portuguese introduced them to Brazil. Sweet oranges imported from Portugal were enjoyed by wealthy Britons in the late sixteenth century.
Oranges are now an important crop in warm climates around the world, most notably Brazil, USA, Spain, North and South Africa, Israel and Australia.
Orange trees are semi-tropical non-deciduous trees of the genus Citrus. The fruit is a type of berry and sweet oranges belong to the species Citrus sinensis (the bitter Seville oranges are C. aurantium).
Choose oranges that are firm and feel heavy (weightier oranges are juicier). Very large fruit can sometimes be less sweet and concentrated in flavour. Skin colour is not indicative of quality - untreated ripe oranges are often pale orange or greenish but those sold in supermarkets may be treated with ethylene (to break down the green chlorophyll) and then coloured with orange dye.
The vast majority of commercial oranges (Sevilles apart) are treated with a wax polish that may have deleterious health effects. If using the rind, try to find unwaxed (and ideally organic) oranges.
Some oranges sold can be a little dry, pithy or lacking in flavour. Buy European oranges over those imported from further afield. Navel oranges (identifiable by the belly button-like rudimentary fruit growth at one end) from Spain are consistently of high quality, and are also seedless and easy to peel. Valencias, at their best, are perfect for juicing. Jaffa oranges from Cyprus or Turkey are another excellent choice. Blood oranges - a rich, fabulously coloured and perfumed fruit - are best from Sicily and have a more restricted season than other varieties.
Oranges in the shops today may have been picked anything from a few days to a few weeks earlier. Most will keep for a couple of weeks at room temperature.
If juicing, roll on a flat surface first to set loose the juice. If using the zest, scrub the skin thoroughly and avoid cutting or grating too deeply - the bitter white pith is best avoided.
The colour orange was named after the fruit, not vice-versa. The word orange comes from the Sanskrit naranga meaning fragrant.