Portugal and the origin of oranges

Sweet orange beginnings 

Ever since I was a child, I always associated cold weather and especially Christmas with the smell of oranges. Ironically, because they need hot weather in order to get ripe and sweet. I would get an extra dosage when I got the flu, because vitamin C had “miraculous” healing powers. 

 First encounter with orange trees up close as a teenager 

When  I went to Greece for the first time as a teenager, I  saw an abundance of orange trees in the streets, full with the delicious-looking ripe fruits. Up until that point I had not thought of where they come from. They always came to me in a box, or in a bag. I also wondered how those trees are STILL full of ripe fruits. Was everybody else seeing them? Or was it illegal to take? I was too shy at that time to take one myself. Or even ask that question.

I would find out years later, while in a similar situation in Portugal. Those oranges were only LOOKING delicious, but, in fact, tasted very sour, a local told me. Once again, I had not tested them. So I will keep wondering if that was really the case.

 The highlight of living in Portugal 

I moved to Lisbon for about a year and what’s interesting is that I always connected Portugal with oranges. That’s because in my language, the word for orange is very similar with the name of the country, “portocala”. When I was living in Portugal, a local asked me what I like the most about being there. And I said “the oranges”. He looked at me confused. “I thought you were going to say that you liked the people, or the food.” 

“Still the oranges”, I replied.

After taking a moment to compose himself, maybe his ego slightly bruised by my lack of expected praise, he asked why. 

“Because they really are the best I have ever had. And because I always thought of Portugal as the land of oranges.”

Now that shocked him. He had never heard this before, nor did he know that for an entire country, the name of his motherland is deeply associated with a fruit. 

I tried to back up my case with associations of the word in the other languages I spoke.  It didn’t work in English, Spanish(naranja), Italian(arancia),Norwegian(appelsin) or French(orange). I looked it up and found out that there is a simple reason for this: the Portuguese merchants were the first to introduce this fruit to some regions of Europe. That’s why in Greek, Turkish, Macedonian, Persian, Bulgarian and Albanian, the world is similar to the name of the country.

 In conclusion 

Orange you glad you read this?

79 thoughts on “Portugal and the origin of oranges

  1. I really learn a lot on this blog.
    When I lived in Sicily, there were also full orange (and lemon) trees everywhere. Even in parks, next to roads, everywhere. I asked and it turned out that there was a quota of oranges that could be picked commercially and the rest would just fall off and rot (or sometimes be sold illegally by the side of the road). So, it was perfectly OK to pick oranges from random trees. For half a year, I had the best oranges without ever having to buy one. (Even if bought, they would have been super cheap.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That answers my question, but I´m still wondering how will the people picking the oranges know when the quota has been reached? It would be good if they had a countdown, saying something like “3 more oranges available for picking”.


      1. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone reads this and will develop an app for it.
        In Sicily, it seemed to me that people knew that the quota would be filled by the huge orange farms, and that all the small gardens and the trees in the mountains and by the side of the road would not be needed.
        Once, I stayed on an orange farm when they picked the fruits and it was super-organized, with boxes underneath each tree, pedestals for the workers to climb up, harvesting tree after tree at rapid speed, small vehicles driving through the trees to pick up the boxes, and at the end of the day, an orange field as big as a national park was cleared.
        By the way, if you like oranges, I think it’s possible to get seasonal jobs there because all the workers seemed to come in from afar (from North Africa on that particular farm). But then, on second thought, it’s maybe too much of a John Steinbeck novel: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/mar/12/slavery-sicily-farming-raped-beaten-exploited-romanian-women

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Well we can’t go past a Portuguese egg tart of course! Apart from that we loved the countryside, the history, the architecture, the pace of life, the friendly people, and the low cost of living. All of these things make for a great travel experience! We didn’t try the oranges though…so that’s on the list for next trip!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It´s interesting to know that the Finnish word for “orange” is similar to Norwegian. One of the few exceptions in which Finnish is similar to other languages, as I have seen in my experience so far. I would like to learn Finnish as well.


    1. Yes and no! There is a variety of orange called the „Valencia” which comes from California – Valencia in California is named after the orange as the crop was very succesful there. However the irange is named after Valencia in Spain because the region was (and still is) knkwn for producing sweet oranges – Valencian oranges are also very popular.
      I realise this is a very geeky comment but I moved to Valencia this year and I looked it up! Lol

      Liked by 1 person

  2. statebystateadventure

    Excellent article. I am happy to have learned some things about a healthy fruit and a great place in the world. Plus you ended with a great joke. My kids tell it as a knock knock joke and it resonated well with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We couldn’t grow orange trees where I come from either, so I get what you mean. Instead, my country has the perfect climate for walnut trees and grapes. Where are you from and what are the other delicious fruits or veggies that your region is perfect for?


    1. I haven’t been to India yet, but it’s on my list. Thanks for the tip, in my mind India was more well- known for other things, but it does make sense to have delicious oranges as well, given the warm climate. Which area of India has the best oranges?


  3. I actually smiled while reading this because I don’t think I’ve ever come a post about Oranges before. I love how you associate Christmas with Oranges and like yourself I was always given an extra dose of orange when I had a cold for the healing powers of Vitamin C 😀 – Ironically I’m eating a satsuma as I’m typing this comment. I can’t wait to try an orange in Portugal 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question! Actually, it varies. In Romanian, the colour is also named after “Portugal”(portocaliu), but we also use “oranj”, if we want to be a bit fancy 🙂
      In Norwegian, the colour is “oransje”, even if the fruit is “appelsin”.
      In Spanish and Italian they use the same word for the fruit and the colour.
      How is it in your language?


      1. In German, which would be the most useful language to learn next, by the way, the color is “orange”, but pronounced in French, not in German (even by non-fancy speakers).
        For the fruit, there are at least two words: “Orange” (pronouncing the an and g like in French, but pronouncing the final e, thus making a distinction between the pronunciation of the fruit and the color) and “Apfelsine”. I am not sure if either word is more stilted or if the use varies by country and region. I seem to hear/use “Orange” more often in colloquial conversations and “Apfelsine” more in written texts.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Elisa

    I live in Orange County California, so I love a good orange. I’m planning to go to Portugal next year, so I can’t wait to try their oranges. Nice article with something to look forward to!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really nice post I can totally understand why you love the oranges so much, Portugal as Spain they have because the weather best land to have this amazing fruit as you said plenty of vitamin C, I live now in Uk and miss them so much, when I come back home to Spain my father used to go to pick up some of them for our breakfast.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Measha Vieth

    This was a fun story to read! I was entriguid because my room mate will be backpacking around Portugal in a couple months. I will let him know it’s the land of oranges. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I really loved this post but then was traumatized by the stark turn of events in Andreas comment (the book he linked) just as I was about to get excited about taking a trip to go pick oranges.

    Nevermind then

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Belle - twofeelswrite.com

    Your ending is so wonderful! I’m so jealous of your life and the places you’ve been! It definitely awakens my travel bug haha


  9. I’m Portuguese, and giiiiiirl, you would love to go to my backyard xD (I live in the countryside, and my house is surrounded by apple, lemon and orange trees)


  10. Nicole

    Wow! Such an interesting post. I’ve never really thought of where oranges come from either – I guess the ones I eat come from California or Japan at Christmas. But, I do love to eat them. I think it would be amazing to see the trees filled with oranges. We have lots of fruit trees where we live, but not oranges or lemons – I’d love to see lemons too. Both of them are so brightly colored. Maybe I need a trip to Portugal 🙂 Fantastic post! Thank-you.


  11. Orange you glad, haha! That is awesome, thanks for the unexpected laugh! I love learning new words, which makes me very happy to have found your blog. I used to subscribe to the word a day email, I thought it was great!


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