Above you see what typical sweet oranges-- what the local folks call chinas -- look like in a typical frutaría bin. Notice that these very sweet, super-flavorful oranges at the peak of perfection for eating in early December aren't very orange. That's because the notion that a good orange must be brightly orange in color is a marketing ploy. Marketers tout the orangeness of oranges because it's easier to make oranges orange than to deliver tasty oranges to distant customers. People in the Yucatan, however, are sophisticated orange eaters, so they know that to determine a good orange you check for blemishes, you might feel firmness, you smell them, but you certainly don't buy them because they're orange.

Many orange cultivars are recognized, and too many of them have been bred with very tough, very orange rinds with shipping and marketing in mind, instead of flavor and wholesomeness. The ones in the bin are especially thin-skinned and juicy, perfect for squeezing orange juice from, though I just eat them. Since this cultivar's peel is hard to remove, I've developed a special way to eat them.

Orange split openFirst I cut them in half, then at the back of a half I push inward so that it splits in the way shown at the right. Now it's easy to tug the wedges from their peel with my teeth. When I'm pressing the half from behind some of the juice packets burst, but when I'm pushing I'm also slurping up all the sweetness. It doesn't matter that I get a seed from time to time, for it's all so sweet and sensuous that I even like the seed's mild bitterness, and the slight burning sensation where the peel touches my lips, and the juice that gets into my beard. How wonderful to have such oranges, and to be able to eat them exactly as I like!

The Orange tree is Citrus x sinensis, "sinensis" meaning "Chinese," which coincides with the local word for sweet oranges, which is chinas. For, the Orange plant is thought to have arisen in southern China. Until now it's been debated whether the Sweet Orange plant derives from a wild species no longer occurring in a natural state, or whether it's a hybrid. Early in 2011 the issue was settled when a team of Chinese researchers doing genetic studies determined that both Sweet and Bitter Oranges are hybrids between Tangerines (also called Mandarins), Citrus reticulata, and Pummelos, Citrus grandis.

Today the Sweet Orange is the most commonly grown fruit tree in the world, and there's a world of cultivars to choose from. In the US, most oranges grown in California are either 'Washington Navel' or 'Valencia'. Florida's commercial cultivars are mainly 'Hamlin' (early); 'Pineapple' (mid-season), and; 'Valencia' (late).

The owner of the frutaría supplying the oranges in our pictures says that his chinas are Valencias. That makes sense since Valencias are known to be the cultivar most planted in the tropics, and one producing relatively small but very juicy, rich-tasting fruits that often don't develop a deep orange color.