Until January marks the season for oranges, but not just any orange – the Seville orange, otherwise known as the bitter orange and as the name suggests grows in the capital of Southern Spain’s Andalucia region. In fact Seville produces 89% of the world’s production. However, these highly aromatic thick, dimpled skin wonders originated in China and India more than 3,000 years ago, and were brought to Seville by Arab traders mainly as decorative trees thanks to their beautiful flowers and intense aroma. No wonder its Indian name is ‘narayam’ which means ‘perfume within’.
With its bitter, sour taste, the Seville orange is best not eaten raw. Prized for making marmalade, the word in fact was derived from the Spanish ‘marmellata’. Being higher in pectins than the traditional sweet orange, it sets better, thus producing higher quantities. Pop into the 15th century Convento de Santa Paula in La Macarena – Seville’s working-class and religious barrio – and the nuns will sell you marmalade from their orange groves.
Closer to home, we tend to buy ours from the nearest supermarket, but we can concoct it from just three simple ingredients – Seville oranges, water and sugar. The bitter oranges when combined with sugar makes for a sharp tangy taste and intense flavour, eliminating the over-sweetness that so often masks the true flavour of preserves. The combination of sweet and tart gets the taste buds going first thing in the morning.
Marmalade aside, the fragrant juice can replace lemon or lime juice in marinades, dressings and sauces, in particular for rich meats like duck. The fruit’s acidity will also help cook and flavour dishes like ceviche.
On odd occasions you can find Seville oranges in UAE supermarkets (buy plenty as they freeze well!), but if not Valencia oranges with its slightly sweeter taste will suffice.
While you’re in Seville
To soak up Seville’s culture and home-made delicacies, we’d recommend staying in the heart of La Macarena right next to the basilica at the Alcoba del Rey boutique hotel. Owned by an importer of Moroccan furniture, the seven rooms and eight suites hark back to Moorish Al- Andalus. Go for the Beatriz de Suabia suite with its canopied wooden four-poster bed. The inner courtyard leads you to a small blue and white tiled tapas bar, perfect for a quick drink or bite. www. alcobadelrey.com
INFO: Emirates operates daily return flights from Dubai to Madrid (www.emirates.com), with onward connections to Seville via Iberia (www.iberia.com). www.visitasevilla.es