Bitter Orange

The bitter orange or naranja agria is a citrus fruit that has a peculiar bitter flavor and a very high acidity that works very well for marinades and to tenderize meats and seafood. It also has a distinct look. It is not very pretty; it’s small, with a pale, somewhat dull colored pebbly textured skin that appears to be speckled with sand or dust. However, slice it down the middle, and you will find a shinny, juicy, deep orange and wonderfully flavored pulp.

It found its way to Mexico through the Spaniards, who got them from the Arabs, who got them from the Persians. In any case, bitter oranges found a wonderful reception in Mexican soil, especially in some regions such as the Yucatan Peninsula and Veracruz. It is used in many ways: to prepare ceviches, sauces, soups, marinades, salsas, and pickles to name some.

So much for ingredients traveling from one place to another around the globe, bitter oranges are very hard to find in many places -and one big reason why I am considering planting a tree in my backyard. That’s also why many cooks have come up with different substitutes such as part orange juice and part vinegar or different percentages of different citrus fruits.

The substitute that I like the most, is equal parts grapefruit, orange, lime juice and white distilled vinegar. I find that the substitutes that only use citrus juices tend to faint quickly and don’t reach the high acidic content of the bitter orange.


16comments inBitter Orange

  1. Clare Gray-Bayne

    Jun 06

    Hi, I would like to know where David Blood lives, as I am a Floridian, and am curious what river in Florida he is talking about — there are lots of rivers here. I grew up weekends with my grandmother in the groves in central Florida, so I am interested in where the old homesteads he is talking about might be.

  2. David Blood

    Jan 23

    High upon the bank of a historical flowing Florida river one finds the naranja agria trees left from either the Spaniards who owned the land or the indigenous people who sought refuge there. I am fortunate to know of several old homestead sites where both the bitter orange and the rough lemons grow. A trip each year with buckets and bags, keeps me busy picking, juicing and slicing rhine for zest infused alcohol many weeks later.
    Today I pasteurized some five quarts of juice. Sour orange pies, mojo criollo and juice to be frozen in cubes are in the works.

    1. Pati

      Jan 23

      Oh wow…that’s so awesome, David.

  3. Belinda ortiz

    Jul 13

    You can find these bitter oranges (naranjas) at any Spanish bodega in orlando. My dad has a tree. He makes candy…dulce de naranjas. Its a Puerto Rican recipe.

    My daughter and I are obsessed with your cooking. Congrats on your success. Be blessed.

    1. Pati

      Jul 14

      Your dad’s candy sounds delicious. Please say hello to your daughter, and thank you for watching!

  4. Cal

    Feb 09

    Hi Pati,
    I searched for bitter orange on and found that Goya made a marinade. Have you tried it?
    Would it make a good substitute?

    1. Pati

      Feb 09

      Hi Cal, I recommend using the bitter orange juice substitute…here’s the recipe:

  5. Bob Freedman

    Feb 14

    Can you provide any recipes for the various uses of bitter orange in Mexican cuisine?

    Thank you.

    Bob Freedman

    1. Pati

      Feb 16

      Of course! is one of my favorite dishes of all time

  6. John F

    Jan 23

    After reading UK John’s comment about drying orange peel for later use it got me to thinking of an economical way to do that job. Today, while volunteering at a Bring and Buy in the tech room where I evaluate donations for efficacy, I came onto a bowl type popcorn maker, one that has a rotating arm to move the corn around on the heated bowl. I think this just might be the economical thing I was trying to figure out. We’ll see.

  7. John F

    Jan 19

    In the absence of Seville oranges here in Minnesota, some research provided me with the opportunity to make this year’s Bitter Orange Marmalade with Naranja Agria from the big Mexican grocery in Minneapolis. I ordered 10 lbs. today which will be in the store next Monday for pickup on Tuesday. I have an order for 16 pints of marmalade, so I think I’ll be well stocked.

    1. Pati

      Jan 22

      Yes, sounds like it! 🙂

    2. Maria

      Jul 20

      John F, I’m a Minnesotan, too, and bought Seville oranges at the Wedge co-op in Minneapolis right about the time you were buying your Naranja Agria from the Mexican grocery! How did you like them? And is the season pretty much the same as the Sevilles? I used mine to make vin d’orange, and it’s so fantastic (finally started drinking it in mid June) that I desperately want to make more, and am wondering what will serve in the Sevilles’ stead. Googling “bitter orange substitute” led me to your interesting blog, Pati!

      I have a feeling the fruit from the Mexican market was probably a lot cheaper than that at the Wedge, but FYI, I think you could get Sevilles from a couple of other co-ops, too, if you want to return to them next year.

  8. john

    Mar 21

    Hi, regarding bitter or Seville oranges.
    These are only available for a short time in the UK and are mostly used to make marmalade. I also use some to make marinades which will keep in the fridge for several weeks. I have also been experimenting (with good results) with drying the peel for later use. I have also started grinding some of this dried peel into a powder. It’s also good mixed and ground with other citrus peels……..some great flavours can be obtained.
    Take care,

  9. Carla

    May 12

    Found some recently at the Korean grocery store Lotte Plaza in Chantilly, VA, out near Dulles Airport.

    1. Pati Jinich

      May 12

      Good to know!

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