Bitter Orange


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, 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.


16 comments on “Bitter Orange

Leave a Reply to John F Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. 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. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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. 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.

  7. 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,