Samui Wining & Dining
Tropical Pick

October’s Fruit of The Month – the Thai orange.

Thailand,wining,dining,samui,koh,samui,map,siammap,samuimap,holiday,escape,vacation,food,travel,backpack,hotel,roomWell, that’s not very interesting. I mean, it’s an orange – so what! It’s not like it’s a wild and rampant fruit, is it? You can get them everywhere – even at the shop on the corner, know what I mean? And they’re all more or less the same, anyway – yeah? – Some are just a bit bigger, that’s all. And they’re boring. Now – if this was a story about dragon fruits or durians or something – then that would be a bit more fun!

Hold on a minute! Slow down! Oranges are interesting – and they’re not all the same. And, anyway, I bet you don’t even know where they originally came from. Or that orange peel kills flies. Or that orange pips are commonly added to cattle-feed. In fact, I bet the only thing that you know at all about oranges is that they contain vitamin C. And, more to the point, we’re talking about Thai oranges here.

The first thing to say is that, basically, there are just two sorts of orange worldwide – sweet ones and sour ones. Yes, I know there are different varieties, like tangerines and mandarins and blood oranges – Thai oranges, even. But let’s keep it simple.

Citrus simensis is the generic name for the sweet orange. Curiously, oranges don’t grow in the wild – they have to be cultivated. It’s strange, but this is on good authority

– the Horticulture Department of the University of California. But what happens to all those thrown-away pips, I wonder? And how did the first ones suddenly appear? Hmm. And it’s ‘assumed’ that oranges were first discovered growing in north-east India and Indochina.

But then, in the 16th century, Europeans suddenly realised that you didn’t drop off the flat edge of the Earth if you kept sailing in a straight line. And so they began to rush about all over the world, in their little sailing ships, to see what treasures they could steal, people they could conquer, and new flora and fauna they could find. In this way, oranges (amongst many other newly-discovered fruits) found their way to Mediterranean areas, then onto to both North and South America – from where they spread rapidly. And today, they’re now the most commonly-grown tree-fruit in the world.

By the time the 17th century had rolled around, first the Dutch, then the Spanish, British and French had developed diplomatic and trade connections with Thailand (Siam, as it then was known). And, at this time, there was a huge influx of tropical fruit from other countries, of which the orange was one. Although Europe had known of citrus fruit since Roman times, these fruits were bitter and used only for medicinal purposes. But, somewhere in the trading frenzy that’s epitomised by the heyday of the Dutch East India Trading Company, the sweet orange emerged – quite from where, nobody knows! And it was this orange that rapidly became popular in Thailand.

However, the small, sweet, Thai orange – som kaeow wan – has evolved into something today that is different from other tangerines – and, yes, it’s a member of this branch of the orange family. Firstly, it’s almost completely smooth-skinned – it has no trace of the dimpled surface that characterises orange-peel. Because of this, it’s often referred to in Thai as som kliang, meaning ‘the smooth orange’. Secondly, the skin is extremely thin, making it completely effortless to peel and break-open.

And the third thing is its colour. Normally, we associate a green colour with an unripe fruit. But the Thai orange can range from deep green – like a lime – through to the dappled green-and-orange of the more mature fruit. But, whatever its appearance, it’s absolutely the sweetest orange that you’ll ever taste, with not even a trace of tartness, or bitterness. And it hasn’t got the stickiness that some of the other local fruits are guilty of – the rambutan, or the durian, for example. Because it’s a member of the citrus family, its sweetness is moist, watery and refreshing.

Not surprisingly, the Thais use it a lot in their cooking. One of the favourite dishes is the sour gaeng som – orange curry. Although, today, canned orange juice is sometimes used for convenience, traditionally this dish is flavoured from a combination of both the rind and the fresh juice – which gives it the odour of oranges, too.

You’ll also come across oranges used in a variety of Thai desserts. One of the simplest, and best-known, is called som loi kaeow or ‘orange slices on ice’. The sweet little segments are placed in a dish on top of crushed ice, bathed in their own juice and scented with freshly-picked jasmine flowers – the Thai equivalent of fresh vanilla. And it’s a glorious nibble, on a hot, sticky afternoon! What about about killing flies, then? And the cattle-feed? It’s true. Orange peel contains between 90-95% of a substance called limonene, which really does have a lethal effect on flies, fleas and ants – if you can hold them still long enough to rub the peel on them, I suppose.

And the pips are particularly high in protein, and contain fibre, too. Crushed-up and added to the cattle-feed, they make a cheap and nourishing supplement, widely-used throughout the world.

And don’t forget the vitamin C and vitamin A, and lots of calcium and phosphorous, too. Oranges are very good for you!


Rob De Wet


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