This ugly little orange was sitting with other strange and exotic fruits in the produce section of Whole Foods so I was lead to believe that there had to be something particularly special about it. While not as grotesque as the ugli fruits sitting nearby, these little creatures are noticeably rougher than their navel orange brethren; marred with black spots and streaks like a mini orange model of the moon. They're also incredibly dense. If I'd been attacked in the parking lot on the way back to my car then I could probably have used this rock-like fruit to fight off my would-be-assailant.
Being a native of Vietnam, I have a sneaking suspicion that the sour orange, also known as bitter orange, bigarade orange, or Seville orange, was developed as a weapon of war. Currently, however, it is used for its essential oil in perfumes and flavorings (one variety, bergamot, is used in the delectable Earl Grey tea) or as an ingredient in food items such as marmalade. More recently it has replaced the now-illegal ephedra as a dietary supplement because of its stimulant and appetite suppressing qualities. I can't find much information about the nutritional profile but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it has high levels of vitamin C.
In peeling the bitter orange, one can certainly begin to understand the value of the oil as a perfume or flavoring. The aroma is incredibly strong and distinct. At the same time, it is rather harsh and irritating to the skin, eyes, and passage ways; the sour orange does not like to be peeled and its tough exterior makes it an arduous task. Within the thick rind are very pulpy segments with a texture much like that of those found in grapefruit. In fact, much about the sour orange is similar to the grapefruit; particularly its texture, astringency, and taste. The sour orange, however, still has that distinctive "orange" scent and flavor that is responsible for its oil's popularity.
The rind must be where most of the value is contained as the innards indeed smell sour, but more along the lines of sour as in rotten. The pulpy skin around the juicy flesh is incredibly bitter and not very nice at all. After eating two pieces I couldn't stand the taste of the skin any longer and resorted instead to chewing the pieces until I'd extracted all of the juice and then promptly spat the pulp out. The juice itself was pleasant but overbearing at times. If I were to buy another one of these then I would definitely forgo the hassle of peeling and sectioning. Instead I'd just slice it in twain, juice the two halves, and sip slowly. Being so sour, it's probably something that can't be enjoyed in isolation all too often but would work quite well as an ingredient in meals or cocktails.
While the experience of peeling and eating the sour orange was rather unpleasant in and of itself (the tender flesh under my fingernails burned for the rest of the day), I've quite enjoyed learning about them. Now I shall run to the store and pick up some Earl Grey tea because I've got a craving for the sour, citrus flavor.