Origin and history

The exact location of origin of citrus fruits is not clearly identified, although most researchers place it in South-East Asia, at least 4000 years BC. There are actually different legends about the origin of citrus. The spread of citrus fruits from Asia to Europe was slow. First, citrus fruits were taken to North Africa and then, probably by the fall of the Roman Empire, they entered the South of Europe, where they flourished in the Middle Ages. Citrus fruits were brought to America by the Spaniards (Columbus took seeds of citrus fruits with him in his second trip) and the Portuguese in their exploration trips to the New World, around year 1500. It is believed that the word “orange” originates from Sanskrit.

International trade in fresh citrus fruits began almost two centuries ago. Even at its early stages, Spain played a dominant position in the Mediterranean area, supplying almost all citrus fruits shipped to United Kingdom, Germany and France.

In contrast, international trade in orange juice only started to increase in the 1940s, after World War II, when citrus processing technologies were invented and developed. The beginning of citrus production in Brazil is placed by researches at about 1530/40. Brazilian citrus industry started to play a major role in the economy in the 1930s, after the coffee crisis. The growth of Brazilian citrus industry was particularly high in the 1960s, when the freezes that destroyed an important part of Florida citrus fields led to increased production in Brazil as an alternative supply area, in order to meet existing orange juice demand in North America and Europe. During the decade of 1980, Brazil became the largest citrus fruits producer in the world and the first, and almost exclusive, orange juice exporting country. Historically, the United States citrus sector had been more domestically oriented. In the nineties, the citrus industry has become more globally integrated.