Frothy, creamy Orange Julius. A popular drink since the 1920s. Originally, a simple orange juice stand in L.A. was owned by a struggling businessman named Julius Freed. One of his customers dreamed up a drink which would cut down on the acidity in straight orange juice by adding milk, egg whites and a bit of sweetener, then whipped. Thus was born the Orange Julius drink, which was an instant hit, turning Mr. Freed’s ho-hum juice stand into a bonanza. (One can only hope that the customer who created it got a percentage.) Now owned by Dairy Queen, the drink remains basically the same.
Oranges date back to 2500 BC in China and are the most cultivated fruit tree worldwide. Between the 10th and 15th century, oranges showed up in Spain and southern Italy thanks to well-traveled trade routes. In the mid-1600s, King Louis XIV of France ordered a vast orchard of orange trees to be planted on the grounds of the Versailles Palace. (When those French kings liked something, they didn’t waste any time.)
Spanish explorers probably brought oranges to the Americas and Mexico sometime in the 1500s, and they traveled up to Florida and southern California during the next century. Clearly those two states dominate the U.S. citrus market, due to their ideal climates. Although British sailors were nicknamed “Limeys” it is more likely that oranges were the favored passengers on ships, providing vitamin C and fruit for the crews. Prized worldwide, both the popular Valencia and the navel orange are economical, boast a long storage life and provide nutrition to people of all ages, and their juice remains the number one preference for breakfast. The actual trees and fruit have been mutated and grafted for centuries to achieve the desirable fruit we know today. In the U.S. 60% of the orange crop is grown in Florida with a current value of 1.17 billion. Internationally, in 2015, 71 million tons of oranges were produced, headed up by Brazil at 24%, followed by China and India.
Meanwhile back in Spain and Italy, blood oranges, named because of their red flesh color, were commonplace from the 15th century, but a latecomer to the U.S. market, achieving some modicum of popularity during the past few decades.
During his travels to France, foodie president Thomas Jefferson became acquainted with the orange and most certainly had the fruit sent up from Florida when he resided at Monticello and enjoyed them in season, along with marmalade for breakfast. (He didn’t miss out on much in the fruit department). While he did not grow orange trees in his own orchards, he planted mock orange trees for their fragrant blossoms.
With the invention of refrigerated shipping and railroads, oranges geared up as an enormous commercial crop, and the demand has increased every decade. Americans love their oranges in many different forms:
Creamsicles: first appeared in 1923 from the Popsicle Company, refreshing orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream on a stick;
Orange Sherbet: a frozen dessert similar to a sorbet but contains a small amount of milk solids to give it a creamier texture, by far the most popular flavor;
Orange Juice and fresh oranges peeled and eaten sliced or sectioned; in its simplest form;
Orange Juice Drinks: usually made with a small amount of juice or flavoring, lots of water and sugar;
Cranberry Orange Bread: your basic orange quick bread with cranberries added, also muffins;
Orange Flavored Candies: jellied, hard, jellybeans, gummies, the most popular flavor for many candies, including chocolate-covered orange rind; (remember Chuckles? which flavor did you reach for first?)
Orange Soda Pop: Orange Crush, the first carbonated orange soda, rolled out in 1911, followed by Fanta Orange, originated in Germany as a substitute for cola in 1940, and Sunkist, the top three selling brands;
Orange Marmalade: discovered by the Greeks and Romans, first made with quince fruit and honey, it differs slightly from other jams by using the peel of the fruit; the Brits and Scots have been eating marmalades since the 18th century;
Sunkist, Minute Maid and Tropicana: giants in the orange juice industry, citrus flavored soda and other products;
Orange Chicken: popular Chinese Hunan chicken dish with pieces of breaded chicken, fried and covered in a sweet orange sauce;
Duck a l’Orange: those French chefs don’t miss a trick; roast duck with orange sauce, fit for a king;
Although oranges share the citrus market with close cousins the lemon, lime and grapefruit, their sweetness sets them apart.They take their place in the top five favorite American fruits, and they’re not just for breakfast anymore. That guy Julius. He sure started something.