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Sharp relief

Categories: Expert guidance

Beca Lyne-Pirkis delves into the history and many uses of the Seville orange

The Seville orange is the bitter little brother of the citrus clan. Despite the name it now commonly goes by, it’s actually native to southeast Asia and was introduced to the Mediterranean by the Moors during the 10th century. From there it spread further afield to places like the Bahamas and the Sunshine State that is Florida, USA.

The Seville orange, also known as bitter orange, is a direct cross between the pomelo and the mandarin. When the fruit is sliced in half, you can see the similarities with the pomelo by the shape of the fruit (though the size is more like a mandarin), and the thickness of the white pith within.

Its bitterness and tendency to slightly numb your tongue mean it’s not the most pleasant of fruits to snack on if you’re feeling peckish. When it arrives on our shores from Spain in January, however, the country’s homemade marmalade production goes into overdrive.

Essential oil
It’s also used for a number of other purposes, by many different cultures. The fruit’s peel is used for essential oil, which can be found as orange flavouring within food items, as well as an aromatic in perfumes, cosmetics and scented candles. Due to the fruit’s strong flavour, it’s frequently used as the flavouring in orange liqueurs. It’s also a favoured botanical in gin, and gives the bitter taste in ‘bitters’. A simple syrup from the peel, juice and some sugar can be used to flavour cocktails, used as a cordial, or added to neat spirits like vodka or gin to flavour the alcohol.

It can also be used with complementing ingredients to match or enhance the fruit’s tang. Why not try making the French classic tarte au citron but with Seville oranges in place of the lemons? Or balance out the bitterness with sweet honeycomb, bound within the creamy coolness of a parfait? A favourite of mine is using the peel to add flavour and fragrance to a brioche dough alongside sprigs of rosemary. Toast slices of the loaf to enjoy with paté or cheese.

Partner in crime
Looking globally for inspiration, some cultures use the juice of the fruit to marinate meat or to ‘cook’ fish, ceviche-style, as they do in Peru. The Tamil people in southern India and parts of Sri Lanka use the peel in a curry—which got me thinking about how else the fruit could be used with spices.

The bitter flavours instantly signal to me that the fruit would be a good swap in lime pickle, the fiery chutney topper for poppadums, which is packed with layers of flavour from different spices and chillies. A sticky Seville orange cake spiked with toasted coriander and caraway seeds—a slightly subtler use of spices as a partner in crime—also proved delicious. Seville oranges are not just for marmalade.