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Temple Oranges and the Florida Citrus Industry

By Sandy Sachs. January 9, 2011.

All good things take time. Variations of that that famous saying have been floating around for centuries. It can be used to describe any enterprise or endeavor humans beings undertake. Today we will use it to talk about fruit. Yes, fruit.

America is the world’s third largest producer of citrus fruits, after Brazil and China. That’s not half bad when you consider the fact that only four states—Florida, California, Texas, and Arizona—cultivate commercial citrus crops. As you might imagine, the Sunshine State does most of the heavy lifting.

Around seventy percent of citrus fruits grown in America come from Florida. They lead the nation in grapefruit, lemon, and lime production. Of course, their biggest crop is the orange. Florida growers make about seven billion dollars each year on oranges. The industry employs nearly one hundred thousand people and accounts for more than two-thirds of total U.S. orange production.

We’ve thrown a lot of numbers at you early, but here’s one more that might surprise you. Did you know that ninety-five percent of Florida oranges are shipped to processing plants for juicing?  That’s about eight million tons of oranges each season. Only five percent of the oranges that grow on Florida’s 7.4 million orange trees ever make it to your local super market.

Temple oranges are one of the few orange varieties from Florida that are not sent to processing plants.  The fruit is a hybrid, a cross between a tangerine (Mandarin orange) and a sweet orange. They have been grown commercially in Florida since 1917. What’s so special about Temple oranges?

The truth is that most oranges are sent to processing plants for a very good reason—they don’t taste good. Also, oranges are expensive to ship as fresh fruit.  As a result, growers make more money when they ship them to the processing plants. Only a handful of orange varieties are deemed tasty enough to be sold as fresh fruit.

Getting back to our opening saying, good Temple oranges can be hard to find. Because they take longer to mature than most other varieties, growers sometimes take shortcuts, i.e., they harvest them before they reach full maturity. As a general rule, it takes Temple oranges a few extra weeks to ripen, which means that buying them before the end of January is out of the question.

The best time to find fully mature Temple oranges is in early February. We know it’s a long time to wait, but it’s worth it. A ripe Temple orange has a bright orange rind and rich, spicy juice and flesh.  They should have an oval shape and no bruises or soft spots. Because they are only ripe for a few weeks, do not expect to find many sales on Temple oranges.

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