Curaçao Oranges are a citrus fruit grown on Curaçao, a small island nation comprising part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and situated in the Lesser Antilles off the northern coast of Venezuela. Spaniards settled the island in 1527 and soon set to planting orange groves. There is argument as to whether the variety planted was Sevilla or Valencia, but what is known is that the oranges didn’t grow well in volcanic soil and arid climate of Curaçao. The fruits were small, bitter, and inedible. The colonists kept on trying, and adapting to the local conditions the plant took on new characteristics, the species designation citrus aurantium currassiviencis, and a new name, the laraha.

While the laraha fruit itself has little value, the peel retains many fine aromatics and is used to produce traditional versions of Curaçao liqueur and triple sec. The Dutch took control of Curaçao in 1815 and, like other spices, the bitter orange peel found its way into Dutch and Belgian beer. It can be used to flavor many types of beers, but it is best known as a traditional ingredient of the wheat-based Belgian witbier. See white beer. The peel, which is green before drying but turns gray and almost moldy looking upon desiccation, is usually added at the kettle. Brewers have various methods for using it, but most involve steeping the peel in wort for several minutes before the end of boil, taking care not to over-boil it and drive off the desired aromatic oils. After steeping, the peel should be removed from the wort. The aromatics given by bitter orange peel are notably different than those given by the simpler, brighter sweet orange peel. In concentration, bitter orange peel aroma can veer from citrusy to an almost meaty pungency, reminiscent of hot dogs. Therefore, while a valuable flavor in the brewer’s arsenal, it is a spice best used sparingly.