Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day Eleven: The Anatomy of an Orange

There are many things I like about oranges. Their color, their fragrance, the way you can watch the essential oils spurt from the skin when you squeeze it. I like the taste of their juice. I use orange zest regularly in cooking, and I like to squeeze a wedge of orange into my beer.

My beef with oranges is 100% textural. I don't drink orange juice much because I hate the pulp. The central column is just dry roughage (see diagram, above). I can't abide pith (the white stuff that coats your orange when you peel it without aid of a knife, see below).

Also, I have a hard time with fruit that sort of explodes when you bite into it (see diagram above, "juicy vesicles"). I know that's weird. I was talking to my dad the other day and that juicy burst is exactly why he likes oranges, and exactly why I don't. He likes grapes for the same reason; it has taken me years to come to terms with grapes, and they still aren't my favorite. And I'm sure I'm the odd person out here. Gushers fruit snacks were all the rage when I was a kid. When someone brings oranges (or tangerines or clementines, what-have-you) to class, people gobble them up.

I have considered the idea that my taste for orange juice might cancel out my distaste for the oranges themselves. But I've been poking around the interwebs for information, and it turns out that the pith of an orange contains flavanols which are thought to recycle Vitamin C, which apparently boosts the vitamin's benefit to the human body. So it doesn't get flushed right out, or something. And while oranges with pith intact rarely manifest on menus (the closest I can think of are the soft little mandarin oranges that hide in chicken salads--generally, it seems that citrus included in cuisine is cut into supremes, which means as much of the pith and connective tissue has been removed as possible), I should really think of my health (notice how most of the things I don't like are really quite healthy).

So I dig into my orange. Maybe it's my inexperience or my particular orange, but I leave a lot more pith behind than whoever peeled the orange in that photo. At this point, I don't know why anyone would want to eat this. I understand the impulse to pluck the fruit from the tree and try to get at its flesh--the smell of oranges is probably one of my top ten favorites. But then the peel comes off and there's this white fuzz, somewhat reminiscent of mold. If I were a cave person, I think I'd drop it and run away.

But I keep going. I separate my orange into segments and decide to take it one bite at a time. And really, once I have a segment in my mouth, I'm grateful for the onrushing of juices. If it didn't burst, I would be stuck with this fuzzy, slightly rubbery, dry white gunk. So I enjoy the juices as I chew, and by the time the juices are gone, I'm left with a slightly more pliable flesh. It's still pretty gross, but it's manageable. The first orange segment goes down smoothly. The pith tries to choke me a little on the second segment--maybe I inhaled it, or maybe it was just resisting digestion--but the rest are fine. And I comfort myself with the knowledge that the pith is so good for me. Though next time, I'll probably peel my orange with a knife. After all, the eye does eat first.

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