Taste the Tropics This Winter

My mom used to tell me about the thrill of receiving an orange in her Christmas stocking when she was a child. Today it's hard to believe that was the only orange she would taste all year long. The ever-popular oranges and grapefruits are available and reasonably priced in every season. But like most citrus fruits, they reach the peak of freshness in the winter months. When you slice open a perfect orange or pour yourself a glass of chilled grapefruit juice this winter, you’ll get more than just a pucker. Oranges and grapefruits pack vitamins that help boost your immune system during the colder months. Here's how to select, prepare and enjoy these winter favorites.

Popular Varieties

Two popular varieties of oranges are navel and Valencia. Navel oranges are in season from November through May, with peak supplies in January, February and March. They are seedless and considered the finest eating orange in the world. Valencia oranges are in season between February and October, with peak supplies in May, June and July. They have a thinner skin and only a few seeds.

While there are several varieties of grapefruit, Golden grapefruit (with honey-colored meat and bright yellow skin) and Ruby grapefruit (pink meat and blushed skin) are common. While some people believe the ruby grapefruits are sweeter, experts say there is no flavor difference between these two varieties. You can find grapefruits year round. Winter grapefruit are available from November through June and summer grapefruit are picked and available between June and October.

Buying and Storing

For the best taste and most nutrients, select oranges that are smooth, bright, firm, and heavy for their size. Oranges only ripen on the tree (during warmer months) and are picked when fully ripe. The color of an orange in the market is the same as the color when it was picked from the tree. Valencia oranges are subject to a condition called re-greening (they actually begin to turn green again, starting at the stem end, while ripening on the tree). This does not alter the taste or nutrition.

Oranges can be kept at room temperature for a few days. For longer storage, place them in a plastic bag or in a covered vegetable crisper in your refrigerator. Do not freeze whole oranges.

Select grapefruits that have flawless, firm, and smooth skins. Look for heavy—but not hard—grapefruits. The skin's color can vary depending on the time of the year and growing conditions. Grapefruits will keep at room temperature for up to two weeks. For longer storage, refrigerate in plastic bags or in a covered vegetable crisper.

Enjoying Your Citrus Fruits

Juicing. Although the fiber is lost when juicing an orange or grapefruit, drinking a glass of juice is still a great way to enjoy these fruits. Allow the fruit to come to room temperature first to help yield more juice. With the palm of your hand, roll the whole fruit on the countertop a few times to free-up the juice.

Valencia oranges can be squeezed ahead—refrigerating the juice overnight will not destroy vitamin C or flavor. The juice should be covered and refrigerated immediately after squeezing. It is best to squeeze navel oranges by the glass. Navel orange juice tends to become bitter if allowed to sit for a prolonged period, even in the refrigerator. One medium orange yields about 1/4-cup of juice, so it you'll need to juice three oranges to get one serving of juice (3/4 cup or 6 ounces).

Grapefruits are easily juiced by hand or in a juicer. Like other citrus juices, it's best to drink them right away, but they will store well in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for a few days. One medium grapefruit will produce about 2/3-cup of juice. Juicing either a large grapefruit, or a portion of a second grapefruit, will fill your 3/4-cup juice glass.

Zesting. Grated citrus peel is a nice flavor addition to many recipes. Wash and dry the fruit's skin first to remove germs and bacteria. Using a grater, grate the peel over wax paper, using quick downward strokes. Remove only the colored portion of the peel to use in recipes that call for orange or grapefruit zest. One medium orange will give you about four teaspoons of zest, but you'll get a lot more from a medium grapefruit—up to four tablespoons. Try adding a little zest to your hot or cold tea as well! Extra zest can keep in the freezer (in a sealed plastic bag) for later use.

Cooking & Baking. In most cases, Valencia and navel oranges can be used interchangeably in recipes. For cooking purposes, one medium orange or grapefruit contains about 10-12 sections of fruit. It is best to add the oranges during the last 5 minutes of cooking, giving them just enough time to heat thoroughly, yet avoid bitter aftertaste. Try dipping peeled orange or grapefruit into a low-fat yogurt, such as pina colada, apple cinnamon, vanilla, or red raspberry flavors. Or add sections of citrus to your favorite lettuce-based salad. Top it off with avocado and low-fat dressing such as blue cheese or Italian.

Nutrition Facts

The thickness of a fruit's skin is dependent upon annual variables, such as weather. Extreme temperatures, excess wind, and rainfall can all affect the skin thickness, which is nature’s way of protecting the fruit. Thicker-skinned oranges have more of the white albedo, which is loaded with nutrients and fiber. Grapefruit walls provide additional fiber benefits as well. If you eat the walls that separate the segments you’ll be enjoying six grams of fiber in just half a grapefruit! This means you’ll have to peel and eat your grapefruit like an orange, or dig out the walls with your spoon. If you don’t like the chewy walls don’t despair. Your "wall-less" grapefruit still contains fiber (see chart below).

**Grapefruit and grapefruit juice cause drug interactions with more than 50 different medications. The fruit (and its juice) contains chemicals that can cause problems with intestinal enzymes that break down certain medications. When a medicine isn't broken down properly in the intestines, you can end up with too much medicine in your blood, increasing your risk of serious side effects. Always check with your doctor and/or pharmacist regarding food and medication interactions.

Oranges Calories Fiber Vitamin A Vitamin C Folate Calcium
1 medium navel 70 3 g 7% DV 140% DV 12% DV 6% DV
1 medium Valencia 60 3 g 6% DV 95% DV 12% DV 5% DV
1 medium tangerine 40 2 g 10% DV 40% DV 3% DV 1% DV
1 tsp. orange zest 2 0 g 0% DV 5% DV 0% DV 0% DV
3/4 cup fresh juice 85 0 g 7% DV 155% DV 14% DV 2% DV
3/4 cup juice from concentrate 85 0 g 4% DV 120% DV 28% DV 2% DV
Grapefruit Calories Fiber Vitamin A Vitamin C Folate  Calcium
1 medium pink or red 100 4 g 56% DV 128% DV 8% DV 6% DV
1 medium white 80 3 g 2% DV 130% DV 6% DV 2% DV
3/4 cup fresh juice 70 0 g 0% DV 115% DV 5% DV 2% DV
3/4 cup juice from concentrate 75 0 g 0% DV 100% DV 2% DV 1% DV