Refrigerating 'blood oranges' could even make them healthier – a bonus for consumers

  • Art
  • June 22, 2024

An orange packed with antioxidants and other health benefits could be a hit for consumers and citrus growers if the fruit is stored at low temperatures, according to a new study from the University of Florida.

But it's too early to know whether so-called “blood oranges” are a viable crop for Florida's citrus industry, said Ali Sarkhosh, UF/IFAS associate professor of horticultural sciences. Sarkhosh's postdoctoral fellow Fariborz Habibi explains further.

“Although blood oranges typically command higher prices than other common varieties, such as navel or Valencia oranges, it is unclear whether growers could substantially increase their income per hectare by adding them to their crop selection and then storing them for internal color development,” said Habibi, lead author of the study. “Improved fruit quality through the storage method offers a promising opportunity for the Florida citrus industry. However, further research is needed before growers can recommend anything.”

The fruit is rich in anthocyanins, which have been linked to several health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They also contain other beneficial phytochemicals such as vitamin C, flavonoids and dietary fiber.

“Fruit can also develop internal color under similar conditions at home. However, the fruit in the supermarket should have good internal color and be ready for consumption,” Sarkhosh said.

For this study, scientists harvested fruit from a research field at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy.

Scientists found that storing blood oranges at 40 to 53 degrees improves anthocyanin, phenolic content and antioxidants. When they lowered the temperature by 43 to 46 degrees, the fruit's firmness, weight loss and sugar content were also maintained.

“Characteristics such as firmness are crucial for maintaining the overall quality, texture and flavor of the blood oranges during storage,” Habibi said.

Blood oranges owe their name to their deep red flesh. Their skin contains some kind of antioxidant pigment. The fruit is widely grown in countries such as Italy and Spain, which have a Mediterranean climate (cold, but above 32 degrees) that allows them to grow. In the United States, blood oranges grow mainly in California, but are not yet commercially grown in Florida.

Anthocyanin is produced when the fruit is exposed to cold temperatures between 46 and 59 degrees for at least 20 days. Such conditions are rare in Florida's subtropical climate.

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