Orange revolution

Orange revolution

This one is not another tension about Ukraine, this orange revolution is actually about oranges or how oranges became the symbol of many geographies around the Mediterranean. Far corners of the Mediterranean basin from Valencia to Jaffa, places claim ownership to certain orange varieties, similarly in Turkey from Finike to Antalya and from Adana to Mersin, many cities identify themselves with the orange globe. One may think that oranges always existed in those places, it is one shiny fruit that is almost synonymous with the Mediterranean flora, but in reality, the history of orange does not go back to ancient times. Once, there were no oranges as we know now in the Mediterranean, it was first the bitter and sour orange, or as sometimes called, the Seville orange. The sweet orange is a much later arrival, owing its Mediterranean debut to a revolutionary discovery of Vasco da Gama. His voyage to India by way of turning around the southern tip of Africa was a milestone in changing the trade routes forever.

Turkey, like many other Mediterranean countries, is a citrus paradise. Once, even the damp, sub-tropical climatic pockets of the Black Sea region were famous for their mandarins. Today, Aegean mandarins such as the Seferihisar and Gümüldür, south of İzmir, and the amazingly fragrant Bodrum variety are much sought after. Orange is the city symbol of Antalya, and Finike oranges have a geographical indication. Mersin, Tarsus and Adana are other citrus paradises, the latter launched an orange flower festival to attract visitors to the magnetic allure of the flower. Exotic varieties are increasing day by day, previously unknown species are coming to the market. Kumquats became a usual citrusy nibble, as one can pop in the mouth the whole fruit, without the fuss of peeling, a truly quick instant vitamin C fix. Limes, once a luxury, are easily available to the rescue of bartenders. More sophisticated varieties like finger lime and cross-breeds such as lime-quats are becoming popular. It is hard to grasp now, once upon a time, not only here, but also in the entire Mediterranean basin, oranges were unheard of. Before, there was only the bitter orange that came from India via Iran and was spread by the Arabs from the 7th century on to places like Sicily and Iberia. Early in the Ottoman period, only lemon, citron and bitter oranges were known. Bitter oranges, known as “turunç” in Turkish, were favored for their sour juice and their strongly perfumy peel. Citron, known as “kebbat” in Ottoman times, is a genus that we have forgotten today, once very popular to make the most fragrant refreshing syrups and sherbets, and of course, for making the sweet candied preserves, just like the peel of the bitter orange is used. Evliya Çelebi, the 17th-century Ottoman traveler who visited the environs of Antalya, Alanya and Finike, could not help but describe the lemon and citron gardens in Finike, but there was no sign of today’s famous oranges yet.

The arrival of the orange in Ottoman lands was much later, only after the Portuguese takeover the sea trade from Asia. A new trade route was opened from the south of Asia when the Portuguese crossed the insurmountable Cape of Good Hope at the southernmost tip of Africa and reached the Indian Ocean. This is how the Portuguese took the orange from China and brought it to the Mediterranean and Europe. That is the reason why we name orange “portakal” after the Portuguese. Across the Mediterranean, names such as Portugal, Portogallo, Portokale, Portokali were once preferred, all thanks to the Portuguese connection. The Germanic languages, on the other hand, called the orange “Apfelsinen,” which literally means “Chinese Apple” with a completely different interpretation. As a matter of fact, many Northern European countries still use words for orange that mean Chinese apple, and of course, the Latin family name Citrus sinensis is greatly responsible for that China connection.

Coming back to our own orange revolution, it is quite unknown that the true transition of the sunny fruit only happened after the founding of Turkey. Orange cultivation in and around Antalya, which is known as Turkey’s citrus store today, only started in the 1930s during the Republican period. The institute, which was established in 1936 under the name of Citrus Station (Narenciye Ensitüsü), played an important role in the spread of all kinds of citrus fruits, and in a sense, realized the orange revolution of our Mediterranean region. The institute was the first to introduce grapefruit for example, and initially called it “Altıntop,” meaning the golden globe, an unfortunate name which was never really used, so we ended up with “Greyfurt,” an adopted Turkish way of grapefruit. Many varieties of orange, including all those names after Valencia, Jaffa and the juicy blood oranges, first found a home in the gardens of the institute, once on the outskirts of the city, now like a piece of green haven in the midst of the urban city jungle. Today, this deep-rooted institution, named BATEM-Western Mediterranean Agricultural Research Institute Directorate, is still affectionately called “Narenciye” by the people of Antalya, like a much-loved auntie from the family!

FORK of the Week:
Valentine’s Day is coming, it’s worth ordering a cake for a declaration of love. Celebrated Ukrainian architect-pastry chef Dinara Kasko, whose designer cakes are now available in the Istanbul market with the brand Flosophia Pastry, has created a perfect one for the day. Her famed “Heart Cake” has the most striking looks, almost like a red-velvet jewel box, but it is great tasting as well. She uses grapefruits, comparing its bitterness to the pain of love, so it comes with a warning, the cake is as bitter-sweet as love. For more details visit
For the ones who want to order citrus varieties directly from the producer, the aptly named Portakal Bahçem, aka My Orange Garden, is a food choice. Check for various varieties, but keep in mind that they started picking the blood oranges, and they also have unusual choices such as finger limes and limekuats. For more details, visit

CORK of the Week:
On these icy cold winter days, citrus varieties, rich in vitamin C, are a savior. Moreover, they invigorate the palate with their fresh sweet-sour taste, but it is mostly the bitterness of the citrus peel that has the appeal to a bartender. My favorite tipple last week was at the newly opened Roka İstanbul at Galata Port, the long drink Palomita provided a long satisfaction, combining both the freshness of citrus and the bitterness of grapefruit, without the cloying sweetness. It was a perfect combination of yuzu kosho tequila with rectified pink grapefruit juice, and only a light lacing of agave syrup, so light-handed that it was hardly noticeable. Roka is known for its highly acclaimed Japanese cuisine, but I think we will be frequenting there for its cocktails too. Check out the link for more details: