Oranges weren’t named for their color – because their color often wasn’t orange. Find out how they get their brilliant hue, why many ripe oranges have to be dyed, and why nothing in the world is what you think it is.
While the name origins of many fruits are a mystery, the orange seems like a no-brainer. It was named for it color. Actually, use of the word ‘orange’ to describe a cross between red and yellow wasn’t recorded until three hundred years after the fruit appeared in Europe. It’s thought that oranges get their name from the Sanskrit word for fragrant – naranja. And although the flesh of oranges does flare a tasty-looking orange, the skin of many oranges, especially in the ones in warmer countries, is green.
Many fruits are picked while they’re still a little green and left to ripen during transport, in the store, or just become hard little fruit-bombs in a bowl in peoples’ homes. Most green oranges, on the other hand, are perfectly ripe. By the time they turn orange they’re sliding downhill towards rot. The green skin of an orange isn’t indicating that not enough of its natural color is coming through. It’s just pumped full of chlorophyll. In warm, sunny countries, that chlorophyll stays in the fruit. It’s only when the fruit is exposed to cold that the chlorophyll dies off and the orange color shines through.
In South American countries and tropical countries near the equator, oranges stay green all year around. In the United States, oranges grown in early spring or ones that are grown in late fall turn orange naturally. Ones that only see the height of summer are usually green. To make it even more frustrating for farmers, oranges that have killed off their chlorophyll can green up once again by sucking the chlorophyll out of the leaves around them like small, tasty vampires.
Since most people associate green fruit with unripe fruit, most green oranges in the United States and Europe have to be colored to be sellable. In some cases they are exposed to ethylene gas, which breaks down chlorophyll. Some are shocked with cold, or covered in wax. Some are scrubbed down with detergent and some are just dipped in dye. Anything for a sale.