The Trouble With Orange Juice – Part I

October 25th, 2010 by Colonel Tiki
This is the first in a series of articles on Citrus.

oranges_and_orange_juiceWithin cocktail circles, ‘fresh squeezed’  (or a la minute if you will) is the rallying cry for citrus. While I am not one to go against this, with all rules there are exceptions. This particular exception is the eponymous orange.

Freshly squeezed orange juice is in most cases insipid and may well ruin your cocktail. Oh my, that’s a strong statement (even with the qualifying clause)! Let me explain why I find it to be true.

The Orange Scene

First, let us consider the fruit itself. Most of us would first reach for an orange for orange juice and hand squeeze it at the point of service. This can really bite you in the ass, and you should blame the produce industry. Modern produce propagation is mainly concerned with yield, ease of harvest, appearance, and shelf life. Please note that “flavor” is not amongst them. Not to say that flavor is unimportant; as long as the flavor is non-offensive it is acceptable.

The most popular use for whole orange is for eating directly or zesting; not juicing. The most common nonseasonal1 varietal is the “common sweet orange,” followed by the Bahia Navel. Both of these have good features for our use: They are pleasing to eat, the rind2 contains decent oils and produces flavorful zest. The juice is almost always insipid on each. Use these lovely looking fruit for garnish and oil expression but please don’t juice them for use in your drink.

The Easy Fix: Varietals

Now, I’m sure many reading would be quick to point out the well known varietal Valencia is chiefly for juicing and this truth is the start of our journey. Most things growing in the ground have a peak of their flavor at a certain time of the year even when they produce year round.3 Valencias are no different. Their season (in the most liberal range) is from the end of spring until the beginning of autumn: One third of a year at most. Yes, you can likely find Valencias year round but as with the Navel and generic above4, Off-season or shipped oranges are usually poor specimens for juicing.

Other varietals can help fill in the gaps in the year, and here are some to consider if they are available at your local Whole Joes:

800px-caracaranavelorangesCara Cara: California:
Season: Late Autumn – Spring

This cross between two Navel varietals5 shows dark orange color and complex juice flavor. Most available come from California or shipped from Venezuela. You should favor the closer locality: everywhere should now be declaring the source of produce. The rind is thin yet produces good oils, I would suggest zesting for culinary uses rather than twists or expression.

Hamlin OrangesHamlin: Florida & California
Season: Mid Autumn – Mid Winter

This lovely little orange made it through the great freeze of 1875-6 which destroyed most other orange crops and plants. It has a high juice yield of a light, flowery orange flavor with undertones of honey. I prefer these oranges for the Nui Nui. The rind is thin and of little use, though it does aid in pliability for good juicing.

valencia-orangesValencia: California & Florida
Late Spring – Early Autumn

Orange Juice products are produced from Valencia stock in season: While at the peak you cannot beat a good Valencia for the quintessential flavor of fresh juice. The rind is thinner than Navels yet still can yield good oil expression.


It isn’t impossible to find an accessible Navel or general sweet when in season from November to March. Your chances will improve greatly by looking for these characteristics: location, weight, color. The locality should be your closest coast line state: California or Florida. The weight should be heavy for its size – it should feel dense. The color should be as close to green as possible. All oranges are green in their native tropics: colder climes and senescence cause the process that lead to the reveal of the orange color. Yes. Oranges are green.

What are other options?

In Part II, orange juice products – both from concentrate or not from concentrate will be presented as possible replacements for fresh orange juice.6


  1. more like grown everywhere on earth in conventional or forced methods then shipped. []
  2. The proper term is ‘flavedo’ which I adore, but find twee to use in the common parlance. Footnotes are a place where my fancy flies free. []
  3. such as the first spring sprigs of mint []
  4. Both of these have the height of season in the winter. At their peak, the juice raises from insipid to ‘OK’ []
  5. Washington and Bahia []

11 Responses to “The Trouble With Orange Juice – Part I”

  1. Trader Tiki says:

    I for one tire for all this insipid juice!

    Brilliant stuff. Citrus is something that seems to be often overlooked when talking about classic cocktails.

    A Nui Nui roundup with the different varietals? This must happen.

  2. Brian says:

    aha! so I wasn’t crazy when I thought fresh squeezed orange juice tasted kinda like ass. i rarely, if ever, use fresh squeezed orange – I use bottled orange quite often (with fresh lemon and lime) though. looking forward to part II..

  3. I never thought there was much difference between canned and fresh squeezed OJ in drinks (both bad), but my recent run into Harvey Wallbanger territory showed me otherwise. Great info on orange varietals!

  4. Rick says:

    Craig, I’ve been waiting for this post for so long! I sincerely hope this becomes an epic 29-part series on citrus. Does the size of the orange matter much? I have seen both enormous and small valencias…

    What about blood oranges in winter?

  5. Ouroboros says:

    Do you find any need to cut away the central column of the orange before squeezing it?

    Will you be considering blood oranges in the next installment?

  6. KeithH says:

    If you need a highly trained quality assurance engineer to oversee the testing of the different varietals in the roundup, I would like to offer my services. I can offer references upon request.

  7. Colonel Tiki says:

    Rick, Matthew – I was just considering the most reminiscent orange flavor for these. Blood Oranges while fun to sub I think have a changed flavor profile. They’re so awesome they deserve their own spotlight. I plan on hitting limes, grapefruit, and lemons first though.

    As to the size, that’s a good question. I’d still go with the heft/size ratio, and prejudice would favor smaller dense fruit over larger dense fruit. I could be wrong – something to do for next year’s season.

    Also – I don’t worry about the column in oranges – when they’re bitter, you want the bitter (usually) amiright?

  8. Great post Craig. My first preference when it comes to OJ is always for Valencias. I will confess that of late I have been going to Fresh Market before the weekend starts and purchasing their ‘fresh squeezed’ OJ. I’ve never liked store bought juice before, but this is great quality stuff, and it’s good from Thursday-Sunday (my ‘heavy tiki days’!). I’ll second subbing blood orange juice occasionally to change up a favourite cocktail. I’ve used blood oranges in your brilliant Rongo Bowl recipe, as well as, in a 3 Dots & A Dash (amongst others) to very great success.

  9. Great post! I can’t wait to read the rest of the citrus articles, this will be a very cool resource.

  10. Tony Harion says:

    Ooohh! This is gonna be a fun series!

    I ponder about citrus a lot. Some varieties you guys get never make it here to Brazil or are pretty hard to find. In the other hand we get many other varieties and very fresh stuff.

    Grape fruit for an instance is something you don’t see in every store here and whenever you find it it’s almost always the pink kind.

    Your right, oranges are green(ish) most of the times here.

    Can’t wait for part 2!

  11. Tiare says:

    I don`t know what oranges we have here cuz they never ever write any names in the stores..

    I have used what i then call “the big oranges” and freshly squeesed they are ok to me, but the difference from using tropicana juice isn´t that big either. As for blood oranges i love them with campari!

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