One of the world’s most popular fruits, oranges are loved for their sweet flesh and zesty, aromatic rind. They have many different uses, from juicing to marmalade, and there are many different varieties, each created for a different use. Discover more about the different types of orange with our guide to some of the most popular.
Types of oranges
There are over 400 different varieties of orange, but they can broadly be divided into two different categories: sweet oranges (citrus x sinensis) and bitter oranges (citrus x aurantium).
Sweet orange varieties
When people talk about oranges, they usually mean the sweet varieties. As the name suggests, these oranges have a sweeter flavour, which makes them ideal for juicing and snacking. They can be further divided into four distinct groups, as follows:
Common oranges are the most widely grown, accounting for approximately two thirds of orange production worldwide, the majority of which is used to make juice. There are many different varieties of common orange, with the Valencia orange being perhaps the best known.
Blood or pigmented oranges include varieties of orange that are red in colour instead of the traditional orange. The difference in colour is caused by a natural mutation, and these striking looking fruits were first discovered living wild in fifteenth century Sicily.
Navel oranges are the oranges you are most likely to see for sale at your local grocery store. They are less widely grown than common oranges, but while common varieties are usually made into juice, navels are more popularly used for snacking.
Acid-less oranges are sometimes known as ‘sweet’ oranges, due to their lack of acidity, but in fact they don’t have much flavour at all. They spoil more easily than other varieties, and are not widely grown.
Mandarins are sometimes thought of as a type of sweet orange, although strictly-speaking, they are not an orange at all. In fact, mandarins are a different type of citrus altogether, but their flavour and appearance is similar to sweet oranges.
Bitter orange varieties
Bitter oranges are the other, less well known category of orange. Their bitter flavour makes them unsuitable for juicing or snacking, but they do have other uses.
Seville oranges are probably best known for making marmalade, but they are also popularly used in cooking, as well as to flavour orange liqueurs like Curaçao and Grand Marnier.
Bergamot oranges are popular for their peel, which is used in perfumes and toiletries, and also to flavour Earl Grey tea
Now we’ve looked at the broader categories of orange, it’s time to look at some of our favourite varieties. Some are big names we just couldn’t live without, while others are less well known varieties you just have to try.
Cara Cara oranges
The Cara Cara is both a navel orange and a blood orange, with an extra sweet, refreshing flavour and a deep red colouring. It’s flavour profile contains hints of cherry and blackberry flavours, and it is also relatively low on seeds, making it perfect for snacking and juicing. Originally from Venezuela, the Cara Cara is now largely grown in California, and is in season from December to April.
There are many different varieties of navel orange, easily identifiable by the small growth at one end, which resembles a belly button. Sweet, high in vitamin C, seedless and easy to peel, these varieties are most popularly used for snacking, but they’re also great for zesting and cooking. They make delicious juice too, but it won’t keep for very long, so only juice them if you’re going to drink it right away. Navel oranges are in season almost year-round, from November to June.
With their red colouring, blood oranges make eye-catching additions to salads, desserts and cheese boards, while their extra-juicy flesh makes them a natural choice for juicing.
Blood oranges have a unique flavour, which has been compared to a cross between oranges and raspberries. Depending on the variety, their flavour can be sweet or somewhat tart, with the three main varieties of blood orange including the tart-sweet Moro, the sweet Tarocco, and the Sanguinello, which is somewhere in between. They are mostly in season from November to March.
Discover which foods are the perfect partner for blood orange with our guide to food pairings for blood orange.
The most popular variety of common orange, the Valencia is the go-to orange for the perfect, freshly-squeezed OJ. Despite their name, these sweet, extra-juicy oranges were actually created in California in the 1800s. Unusually, this variety is harvested in summer, and is in season from March to July.
The best-known type of bitter orange, the Seville has a tart, bitter flavour, making it perfect for marmalade. It is also used to flavour orange liqueurs like Curaçao and Grand Marnier, and the peels are used in fish or pork marinades, salad dressings and sauces. Seville oranges are in season from December to February.
Although they are usually referred to as ‘mandarin oranges’, mandarins are actually a completely different citrus fruit. In fact, they are an ancestor of true oranges, which are a hybrid of the mandarin and another citrus fruit called a pomelo. Their flavour is very similar to a particularly sweet orange, however, and so these two fruits are typically grouped together. Smaller, sweeter and easier to peel than true oranges, the mandarin is perfect for snacking and adding to desserts.
Again, not a true orange, the tangerine is actually a variety of mandarin. They are larger and slightly tarter than most mandarins, but still smaller and sweeter than most varieties of true orange. Known for their distinctive, slightly flattened shape and bright orange, pebbly skin, tangerines are particularly high in vitamin C, and are typically used for snacking and juicing.
A hybrid between the willow leaf mandarin and a sweet orange, the Clementine is extra small and extra sweet, with easy-peel skin and no seeds. These cute little fruits are particularly good for snacking, with their sweet flavour making them especially popular with children.
Like the mandarin, the tangelo is not technically a true orange. In fact, it is a hybrid of the tangerine and the pomelo, making it a very close relative of the orange, a mandarin-pomelo hybrid. It has a tart-sweet flavour that makes particularly delicious juice, and is in season from December to March.
Bergamot is another bitter variety, grown primarily for its aromatic peel, which is famously used to flavour Earl Grey tea, and is also a popular scent note used in perfumes and toiletries.