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, 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.