Though blood oranges are cultivated in California, most are grown in the Meditteranean. It’s typically believed that citrus was first cultivated in Sicily during the Arab period in the 9th and 10th Centuries. (Both the English word “orange” and the Italian “arancia” are thought to be derived from the Arabic “naranj.”)
Blood oranges are so called because of the color of their flesh and juice. The oranges are red in color because of the presence of anthocyanins, an antioxidant pigment common in fruit (like cherries, blueberries and eggplant) but uncommon in citrus. Throughout the British Empire, blood oranges were known as “Maltese” oranges. The most common varietals in Sicily are Tarocco and Sanguigno.
Other citrus is grown on the island of Sicily—citrus production earned the area around Palermo the name “Conca d’Oro” or “golden seashell”—but blood oranges are considered particularly Sicilian. So much so that the arancia rossa di Sicilia has protected status.
Blood oranges are used in salads and to flavor sodas and sweets. Blood oranges are both tart and sweet, often compared to berries.