A ripe orange is a wonderful thing. It’s juicy, has a perfect balance of sweetness and tang, and it’s soft, but with a nice, crisp crunch. As is the case with any fresh fruit, it’s always good to know how to spot the ripest, highest-quality pieces. And you should apply this knowledge at the store or the farmer’s market at the time of purchase, because citrus fruits don’t ripen after they’re off the tree. In other words, don’t buy unripe oranges with the intention of letting them mature for a few days.
Selecting the Best Oranges
When picking out any type of orange, going by the color of the rind can be misleading. It’s understandable that you’d be drawn to those with brightly colored exteriors, but some are dyed to look more appealing, while others can be at peak ripeness with a somewhat dull color – and sometimes even greenish (especially Valencia oranges, which are best suited to juicing rather than eating straight).
Instead of going by the color of the rind, go by its feel; it should be firm and smooth with fine texturing. Ripe, juicy oranges also feel heavy for their size and should only give a little bit when you squeeze them. When picking out navel oranges – the most common variety for eating – look at its “navel” on the bottom, because the bigger it is, the sweeter the orange.
Avoid buying a rotten orange, one that won’t taste that good or that won’t last very long by steering clear of any with:
- Bruises, blemishes, cuts or other visible damage
- Soft spots, a squishy or spongy texture, or loss of shape
- Dried-out, wrinkled, withered, saggy or otherwise unhealthy-looking rinds
- Discolored areas on the rind
- Mold growth (often white or dark greenish in color, and it may appear fuzzy)
- A sour or otherwise unappetizing odor
Storing Fresh Oranges
Storing oranges properly helps keep them at peak quality for as long as possible.
Whole oranges can safely be left out at room temperature, but they have a shorter shelf life this way. Depending on their state at the time of purchase, they may only last several days or maybe up to a week or so. For longer storage up to about two to three weeks, keep them whole and loose in a produce drawer in the refrigerator. Don’t wash them until use, as moisture promotes mold and bacteria growth during storage.
Cut or peeled oranges only stay good for a matter of hours at room temperature and up to a couple of days in the fridge. Keep them in an airtight, nonreactive package (e.g., a plastic container or bag, not something metallic).
Freezing Fresh Oranges
If you can’t get through your oranges in time, freezing is an option for longer storage.
Orange juice freezes better than whole fruit, so consider juicing your leftovers and just freezing that. Orange segments should be peeled, separated and frozen in an airtight container or freezer bag; they hold up much better if they’re frozen in their juice, and remember to leave about ½ inch of head space. For the best quality, use frozen oranges or orange juice within about six months.
As an alternative freezing option that comes in handy when you cook, rinse, dry and zest your leftover oranges. Put a few pinches of the zested rind in the compartments of an ice cube tray; then fill them up with fresh orange juice. Keep the tray in the freezer, and these cubes become handy flavoring agents that you can just toss right into the pan while preparing fish, sauces and other dishes.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.