What kind of orange trees grow in Spanish cities?

Seville, Spain: orange trees at the cathedral - photo by mehrit - CC-BY

Seville, Spain: orange trees at the cathedral - photo by mehrit - CC-BY

If you visit the south of Spain in winter-time you’ll see colourful, fruit-laden orange trees growing along the streets, in squares and public parks. They’re not sweet oranges, and so they stay on the ornamental trees without being picked by passers-by.

In spring, visitors may be treated to the fragrance of orange blossom. Book a trip for March or early April if you hope to experience the southern cities – especially Seville – with sweet-scented air and clusters of white flowers on the trees.

Most of these trees bear Seville oranges, also called bigarade: sour and somewhat bitter fruit that were known in Spain long before the sweet orange arrived there in the 1500s. You can’t eat them freshly-picked, you won’t want to juice them, but you can use them for marmalade, liqueurs like Cointreau and Grand Marnier, or various sauces, glazes, and other culinary treats.

The flowers can be used for essential oils, or blended fragrances and perfumes. Neroli oil is made from this kind of orange blossom, called azahar in Spanish.

Classic British marmalade has the slightly bitter tang Seville oranges give, although there are marmalades made from other citrus fruits too. The oranges are of course named after the Spanish city, and the word marmalade also has its roots in the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Quince marmelada has been made there for centuries, named after the marmelo – Portuguese for quince.

This kind of beautiful but bitter orange tree was probably introduced to Europe via Sicily around the year 1000. It is associated with traditional Persian garden design, and is one of many reminders of the time when Islamic culture flourished in medieval Spain.

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