This article is part of a series delving into the fruits, vegetables and other foods that have something in common: their color.
Often, the biological pigments that make these foods a similar color, may also give them similar health benefits, ranging from anti-inflammatory properties to anti-aging and even cancer prevention!
Here we focus on orange foods: from sweet potatoes and pumpkin to orange juice and fruits, we look at how these foods can help your body get its best nutrition.
What Makes Foods Orange?
The compounds in foods that give them their color are known as phytonutrients – and these biological molecules don’t just give attractive color to our food, but also have a role in our nutrition. For orange foods, these phytonutrients are orange pigments called carotenoids.
The most commonly known of carotenoids are carotenes, like beta carotene. As the name suggests, carotenes are found in carrots, but oranges, sweet potato and other healthy fruits and vegetables also contain these carotenoids. The body uses beta carotene to generate vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin which is vital for eye and skin health.
The other common phytonutrients that give foods a yellow-orange color are xanthophylls. They are present in pumpkins, cantaloupe melon and apricots, amongst others. They have anti-oxidant activity and help protect the body from free radicals that cause disease and cancer.
List of Orange Foods
Annato is something you probably eat every day without even knowing it! It is a food coloring made from achiote seeds, which grow in the tropics between Mexico and Brazil. Natural food colorings are generally thought to be healthy compared to synthetic versions, as they carry with them carotenoids and other micro-nutrients that are good for you.
By grinding the seeds, a powder or paste is produced which adds an orange color to food and a slight peppery flavor. The strong color comes from the concentrated carotenoids found in the red waxy coating of the seeds. The color can also be extracted by cooking the whole seeds in water or fat.
Apricots are small stone fruits containing a high amount of potassium and fiber. This orange fruit is smaller than its peach and nectarine cousins, and has its own distinct flavor. Raw apricots are commonly grown in California and provide a moderate source of vitamin A and C – but when apricots are dried, the concentration of nutrients increases. Turkey is the largest exporter of dried apricots worldwide.
3. Bell Pepper
While bell peppers are commonly red, green or yellow, orange varieties are increasingly popular. Eaten fresh, these vegetables have a sweet flavor and are a great addition to salsa and salad recipes, as well as containing large amounts of vitamin C to support your immune system.
4. Butternut Squash
Known as butternut pumpkin or Gramma in countries like Australia and New Zealand, these healthy vegetables have a sweet and nutty taste. As part of the pumpkin family, this squash is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium. Butternut squash is a favorite in vegetarian cuisine, and can even be mashed to add to muffin and bread recipes. Roasted butternut squash adds a sweet flavor to your meal without any added sugar.
The calendula plant, also commonly called marigold, has bright yellow-orange flowers that have been used in traditional medicine for centuries. While many of its uses are as external treatments, including creams and ointments, the flowers are edible and are a cheap alternative for giving saffron-color to cooking. Packed with beta carotene and micro-nutrients, this herb has anti-inflammatory and healing effects.
This orange melon is popular with children and adults alike because of its refreshing, sweet flavor. It is not only an excellent source of vitamin A and C, but also a good source of folate. Cantaloupe, also known as rock melon, contains a variety of minerals, including selenium, lutein and choline, which have antioxidant properties.
7. Cape Gooseberry
Also known as goldenberry or Peruvian groundcherry, this South American plant is a native from Peru and Colombia which is encased in a lantern-like papery husk. The berry has an orange-yellow color when ripe and a sweet-sour flavor. These exotic fruits are often used to garnish desserts and make an excellent counterpart to rich chocolate sweets.
Carrots are one of the most popular orange foods and have always been known to be rich in beta carotene, fiber, vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants. Carrots are a core component of many recipes, both raw and cooked, and are known to be weight-loss friendly.
Eating carrots can help lower cholesterol levels and, with their high level of beta carotene, improve your eye health. The root of the plant is the part most commonly thought of as vegetables, but the stems and leaves of carrots can be eaten as well – in fact, carrots were originally cultivated for their leaves!
Carrots are also a top food for bodybuilders because it’s low in calories and high in fiber. This helps keep you full for longer periods between meals, which is important when you’re in a weight loss phase.
9. Chanterelle mushrooms
Chanterelle mushrooms are an orange type of edible wild mushroom. They have a fruity, peppery aroma, and when cooked develop a tender texture that lends itself to pies and soups, and will give a meaty feel to your vegetarian recipe as well as adding protein. Unlike commercial mushrooms that are grown in the dark, these wild mushrooms contain a large amount of vitamin D to help your body maintain its skeleton and digestive system.
10. Cherry tomatoes
While cherry tomatoes are traditionally a scarlet color, the orange variety is packed with even more antioxidants to help your immune system. A study in 2007 determined that the health-boosting compounds in orange tomatoes are more readily accessible to the body than those found in the standard garden variety.
Clementines are types of oranges formed by hybridizing mandarins and sweet oranges. They are a common favorite for children’s lunch boxes, with their easy-peel skin, bright color, and sweet taste. Clementines also provide us with vitamin C and antioxidants. Like other oranges, the fruit or juice may interfere with medications, particularly cholesterol treatments, so you should check with your doctor for any dietary restrictions related to your medication.
12. Crab roe
Crab caviar, produced by mixing crab eggs, or roe, with salt, is a delicacy packed with vitamin A to support healthy eyes and skin. Try mixing it in crab cakes or eating it on toast.
13. Curry powder
Due to its combination of ingredients, curry powder appears orange in color. Made from ground turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, and fresh or dried chilies, this staple kitchen condiment adds a lively Asian kick to your recipe.
The word “curry” originates from Southern India, where leaves from the curry tree are a key ingredient in curry powder. Curry spices have their own individual health benefits, and curry powder is versatile enough to complement meat, fish, poultry or vegetable dishes.
These small, often green-skinned oranges are also called sour oranges or bitter oranges, and are common across Asia. The flesh inside is a bright orange color with a tart flavor. It is often used to make orange juice, or in traditional salty-spicy fruit salad.
15. Duck sauce
Sometimes called orange sauce, this condiment has a sweet and sour flavor with a translucent orange color. It is commonly offered at Chinese restaurants as a dipping sauce for deep-fried dishes like wonton strips, spring rolls, egg rolls, duck, chicken and fish. The sauce is made from a mixture of orange fruits including plums, apricots, pineapples and peaches, mixed with sugar, vinegar, ginger, and chili peppers, making it high in beta carotene.
16. Dutch Mimolette
This unique cheese is related to Edam, but the addition of carrot juice in the process gives it a deep orange color and a slightly fruity taste. While many mimolette fans say it is best eaten on its own, it is also good grated into salads or mixed into pasta dishes to add a distinctive flavor.
This South-East Asian melon takes its name from its Vietnamese roots. It has a thick spiny casing that opens up when the fruit is ripe for eating. While it is related to the strong-flavored durian fruit, Gấc itself has a mild flavor and adds an exciting color to traditional dishes such as sticky rice. Gấc contains a large amount of carotenoids per serving and is recommended as a vitamin supplement for eye health.
You may not realize that this breakfast classic is a man-made hybrid, formed in the 18th century by crossing pomelo and oranges. This citrus fruit has a distinctive flavor ranging from bittersweet to sour. Grapefruits are rich in nutrients such as antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and may have powerful health benefits including aiding weight loss and reducing the risk of heart disease.
19. Mamey apple
This fruit is from the Pouteria sapota plant, which is native to Mexico and Central America but also cultivated in the Caribbean. The fruit is technically a berry and its flesh ranges from pink to dark orange, while its outer skin is brown with sandpapery fuzz like a peach. The fruit is known for being an excellent source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, potassium, vitamin E, dietary fiber and beta carotene. It has a unique taste, combining sweet apricot flavors with vegetable notes resembling carrots or sweet potato.
Once found only in South and Central America, nasturtiums are now a common garden plant. All parts of the plant are edible, but the orange flowers make a colorful addition to salad recipes. The petals contain similar amounts of vitamin C to parsley, making them gram-for-gram a better source of this vitamin than any other food on our list.
The plant has long been used in herbal medicine to treat urinary infections and chest infections. This cheerful flower not only adds color to your garden, but it is a natural form of pest control, preventing insects from targeting your other plants.
Of course, we couldn’t forget the humble orange on our list of orange foods! From Valencia to Navel, the variety in these orange fruits allows us to choose the specific combination of sweet, sour and color to suit our tastes.
Orange juice is an even better source of vitamin C than eating the fruit whole, as the vitamin is concentrated into the juice, but the pulp contains a great source of fiber to keep the digestive system in good health. Orange juice is often used to flavor children’s drinks and even medicines.
Papaya or pawpaw, is an orange fruit found commonly across Asia. Once exotic and rare, papaya is now available in our supermarkets all year round. Its health benefits include reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and aiding digestion.
Apart from their role as food, these orange fruits are famous in most Asian countries for their skin lightening effect. Papaya extract is added to soaps and creams, marketed by the beauty industry to make skin whiter.
Peaches are a family favorite, and an excellent way of getting children to eat their vitamin C allowance! These orange fruits come in two types: clingstone and freestone. This relates to how tightly the flesh attaches to the stone in the center of the fruit. Eating peaches can help your skin’s overall appearance and reverse sun damage. They also help improve the body’s blood sugar, lipid, and insulin levels.
Persimmon, also called Sharon Fruit, has a sweet flavor and is used in drinks, puddings, and jellies. There are two popular types of persimmon: Hachiya varieties have a bitter taste because they contain large amounts of tannins; Fuyu varieties, on the other hand, are sweeter and can be eaten slightly unripe.
Pumpkin is an autumn favorite packed with carotenoids and vitamins. Pumpkin is one of the oldest domesticated vegetables and holds a place as the key ingredient in traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, as well as Jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. This healthy orange food is an excellent source of provitamin A and beta carotene.
26. Salmon roe
The eggs of a female salmon are a deep orange color, and are considered a healthy delicacy. They are one of the best foods for omega-3 fatty acids, which help support neurological development. A study looking at cardiac illness in the US found that eating salmon roe once a week can significantly protect against developing heart disease.
27. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potato is the oldest veggie on the record, and one of the first orange foods to spring to mind. Packed with vitamin A and C, sweet potato is also a good source of potassium. Sweet potatoes are staple foods in many parts of the world due to their nutrient value. There are a lot of health benefits associated with eating sweet potatoes, including stabilizing blood pressure levels, improving insulin sensitivity and digestion, boosting immunity, and reducing the risk of cancer.
Also known as the tree tomato, tamarillo are the egg-shaped fruits of the Solanaceae tree, native to South America. Although the skins have a bitter taste and are usually not eaten, the flesh can be sweet, sour or almost salty in flavor. This orange food has a high iron content as well as a good supply of vitamins.
Turmeric is a vivid orange spice that is found commonly in cuisine across India, Southeast Asia and Middle East. It has a distinctive, slightly bitter taste, and imparts a strong orange color to dishes.
Turmeric is not only used for cooking but also for traditional medicine and skin care. It has been used in India for centuries as a treatment for breathing problems, and modern science has confirmed that it can help fight cancer and ease depression.
This citrus fruit, also known as Jamaican Tangelo, is a natural hybrid of tangerine and pomelo – hence the name tangelo, which is a portmanteau of its two parent fruits. The taste is usually sourer than tangerine, but lacking the bitter kick of grapefruit.
Japanese Uni is an orange organ from sea urchins. While some people refer to it as sea urchin roe, uni is not actually the eggs but rather the reproductive organ of the urchin. This orange food has a strong ocean flavor and is said to have aphrodisiac properties. The traditional way to eat uni is on top of sushi, but fusion cooking has introduced uni to rice and pasta dishes.
Orange-fleshed watermelon is rarer than the red-fleshed variety, but worth the effort of finding as they tend to be crisper and sweeter. They can be round or oval in shape, and a single fruit can weigh up to 30 pounds. They can come in seeded or seedless varieties.
33. Sea Buckthorn Berries
These tiny, tart berries are native to Europe and Asia and are a source of vitamin C, E, and other antioxidants.
34. Turmeric Root
While it’s well-known as a ground spice, the fresh root has a vibrant orange color and is used in many Southeast Asian dishes.
These are small, oval citrus fruits. They have a sweet, edible skin and a sour pulp.
36. Mimolette Cheese
This is a French cheese that has a distinct bright orange color due to the addition of annatto.
These are orange fruits that are often overlooked. They are sweet when fully ripe and are popular in many Asian cuisines.
38. Canistel (Eggfruit)
This fruit has a unique texture that’s similar to a hard-boiled egg yolk, hence the name. It’s sweet and often used in desserts in its native regions of Central America and the Caribbean.
Known as the “little orange” of Ecuador and Colombia, this fruit has a unique flavor that’s a blend of rhubarb and lime.
40. Orange Cauliflower
This variant of cauliflower gets its orange color from a higher amount of beta-carotene. It has a slightly sweeter taste than the traditional white variety.
41. Squash Blossoms
These are the flowers of squash plants, including zucchini. They are typically a vibrant orange color and can be stuffed, fried, or used in soups.
42. Red Kuri Squash
This is a winter squash that has a rich, sweet flavor. It’s commonly used in soups and stews.
43. Fuyu Persimmons
These are a variety of persimmon that has a sweet, honey-like flavor. They are often eaten raw or used in salads.
44. Saffron Threads
These are the stigmas of the saffron crocus flower and are used as a spice in many cuisines. They give a bright orange color to dishes.
45. Orange Lentils (Red Lentils)
These are often used in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. They turn a golden color when cooked.
46. Orange Honeysuckle
This variety of honeysuckle has orange blossoms that can be used to make teas and infusions.
Remember, even if a food is lesser-known or unusual, it can still be a delicious and nutritious addition to your diet.