How to Choose Ripe Oranges and Store them Properly, According to Experts

And yes, you can use these tips for all citrus fruits.

Woman hands in orange striped sweatshirt holding oranges with green leaves in blue eco-friendly shopping mesh bag on pink background.
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Picking out an orange at the grocery store or farmers market can be difficult, especially when you're face-to-face with a pile of nearly identical fruits. However, there are subtle ways to differentiate between a good orange and a great orange without ever taking a bite. And once you've made it home with your nearly perfect orange haul, there are several methods to store the sweet fruits, depending on how you intend to use them.

Since citrus fruit season typically lasts from November to June each year (though that window may change based on where you live), now is the perfect time to brush up on your orange knowledge, including how to pick out a ripe orange, and how to properly store oranges at home so they stay fresh for as long as possible.

Once you've got a bunch of ripe oranges in your possession, you can use them to make fresh-squeezed orange juice, homemade orange marmalade—the secret to stellar orange chicken and an orange crostata—or save 'em so they can help zhuzh up a cocktail.

Read on for expert tips regarding how to make the most of this flavorful and versatile citrus fruit!

How to Choose a Ripe Orange

When it comes to picking out a ripe orange or multiple oranges, don't just grab the first non-blemished fruit you see. Instead, use your senses to help you find the best orange in the bunch. "No matter the variety, a ripe orange should have a thin, vibrantly-colored skin with a fresh, aromatic smell," says Nicole Stefanow, MS, RDN, a culinary dietitian nutritionist in the greater NYC area. "It should be firm to the touch and have a heaviness to it to ensure juicy ripeness. A lightweight orange tends to suggest a pithy, dry fruit."

Emmy-nominated Chef Nathan Lyon, who worked at a Los Angeles farmers market for more than a decade, agrees that heaviness is a good sign because it indicates that there's an abundance of juice inside. He also suggests looking for an orange without any soft spots, signs of decay, or wrinkling. "If you're planning on using the zest of the orange (which is where all of the delightful essential oils are found), try and choose organic," Lyon adds. "Then, give every orange a little scratch and sniff before you make your selection—the more fragrant the orange, the better."

And don't worry if your orange is sporting some spots. "You can't judge oranges by their color since some oranges may have green or brown spots when they are perfectly ripe," notes Ann Ziata, a chef and instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education.

How to Store Oranges Properly

Generally speaking, storing an orange properly depends on whether or not it is already ripe. Depending on where an orange is in its life cycle, it can be stored at room temperature on a countertop, in the refrigerator, or even in the freezer. "Oranges can last up to two weeks if stored properly, and often longer depending on where you purchase your oranges," notes Lyon. "If you are able to get locally grown oranges from your farmers market, your oranges will last quite a bit longer than oranges that have been shipped long distances to a grocery store."

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Storing oranges on the counter

If you used your produce picking skills to find a perfectly ripe orange and plan on eating or using it shortly after bringing it home, storing it at room temperature on the kitchen counter or in a fruit bowl is totally fine. "Depending on the humidity in your area, oranges will last for about a week on the counter," says Jeanne Oleksiak, the executive chef of HERD Provisions in Charleston, S.C.

Just make sure your oranges stay out of direct sunlight. The heat from the sun can accelerate the ripening process and cause the fruit to go bad before you have a chance to enjoy it.

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Storing oranges in the refrigerator

If you don't plan on using your oranges shortly after purchasing them, finding a spot for the citrus fruits in your refrigerator is your best bet. Lyon, for one, says oranges should "absolutely" be refrigerated. "Think of fresh oranges as tiny glasses of orange juice that have yet to be juiced," he adds. "Store oranges loose (not in a plastic bag) in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for maximum freshness."

To prevent mold from growing, Ziata suggests keeping your refrigerated oranges in something breathable, such as a mesh bag. According to chef Carla Contreras, storing oranges in a sealed bag or storage container is a big no-no because the fruit doesn't have the ability to breathe. "Sealing a bag will trap too much moisture," she explains.

Stefanow notes that fully ripe oranges can last in the refrigerator for approximately two months, but points out that it's important to pay attention to what you store them with. "If you are storing more than one piece of fruit together, be sure to check for mold regularly," she advises. "The phrase 'one bad apple can spoil the bunch' is true for most fruit!"

And while it might be tempting, resist the urge to clean your oranges prematurely. "Don't wash them until you are ready to eat them, as any extra moisture may encourage spoilage," Ziata explains.

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Storing oranges in the freezer

Not sure you'll have enough time to use all of your oranges before they go bad? Stick 'em in the freezer! Once frozen, oranges or parts of oranges will last for about a year. "While fresh is always best, it is possible to freeze oranges. The best method depends on what you plan to do with the orange," says Ziata.

For example, if you love to throw some orange segments in your morning smoothie for a vitamin C boost, Ziata suggests you peel and separate the wedges, and then store them in a thin layer in an air-tight freezer bag. "I would not recommend serving frozen and thawed orange slices whole because their texture will be unpleasantly mushy," she adds.

If orange juice is more your speed, go ahead and juice the oranges, strain the juice, and then freeze it. "I like to freeze orange juice in ice cube trays and then pop the cubes out and store them in an air-tight container," explains Contreras, who notes that this method gives her easy access to orange juice ice cubes whenever she might need a few. While you can freeze a whole orange, thaw it, and then juice it, Ziata points out that you'll save time and freezer space by juicing the oranges first.

To freeze orange zest, which can be preserved for later use in cocktails and soups, clean and dry the orange first, and proceed to zest it as you normally would. The key with freezing zest (and this is true of any citrus fruits) is storing it properly so the flavors stay potent and fresh. "Freeze the zest in an air-tight container to prevent the aromas from evaporating away," Ziata shares.

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