Oranges were first cultivated in in India, then later in China. The orange would reach Europe via the Roman Empire, but the supply would later stop for a few centuries due to the Empire’s decline. The supply would resume by the time Columbus set sail on his voyages of discovery.
Christopher Columbus brought orange trees with him to the New World where it would gain a footing in the Caribbean and then later on in Florida.
Early Americans had a good supply of fresh oranges from the Caribbean and Florida. The zest and the juice both show up in many recipes from the colonial era. While many today still confuse orange peel and zest, some early American cookbooks left no doubt as to what was meant. In at least one such book, instructions were included as to how to slice the peel so as to get only the outer portion of it without the white pith.
Orange zest flavor profile
Orange zest has the strong, pungent sweetness of the peel without the bitterness of the pith. The flavor can simply be described as the essence of orange flavor and aroma.
Health benefits of orange zest
Orange zest contains many of the same nutrients that you would get from the whole orange peel, but without as much of the hesperidin flavonoid that you would get from the white pith.
- Vitamin A: The bright color of orange peel comes from beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A. Most of the beta-carotene in the peel is contained in the zest.
- Limonene: The essential oil that gives orange zest its intense aroma comes from the zest. Limonene is one of the components of that essential oil and has powerful antioxidant benefits.
- Myrcene: Myrcene shows up in many of the fruits that are best known for their fragrance. Aside from oranges, other plant-based foods that contain it include lemongrass and mangoes.
Orange zest can be helpful in fighting a number of diseases such as:
- Cancer: Limonene can provide protection against oxidative stress and belongs to a class of compounds that have been shown to be beneficial for limiting tumor growth.
- Food poisoning: Orange oil has been shown to be effective against microbes, including E. coli bacteria. Studies have also shown it to be effective for keeping salmonella bacteria from spreading. Myrcene has similar antimicrobial benefits to limonene and also helps to fight inflammation.
- Heart disease: Compounds in the orange oil found in the zest can help to improve blood flow and fight hypertension. This can help to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Note that when using zest, it is important to get it from oranges that have been grown without the use of pesticides. This is because there are known carcinogens among the pesticides used on oranges. In many cases, oranges are artificially colored so you should avoid those as well.
Common uses of orange zest
This zest can be used in savory or sweet preparations. Traditional uses in European cuisine tend toward the sweeter end of the spectrum as you will see it included in recipes for everything from biscotti to pies. You can also use it to add a strong citrus flavor to tea, whether hot or iced. Among the many savory applications that require orange zest are Szechuan stir-fried dishes and Mediterranean couscous dishes. Orange zest can also be grated over pasta, used to flavor pan sauces for grilled meats or to flavor roasted vegetables. If you are making a vinaigrette, add it along with (or in place of) vinegar.