Bitter Orange Marinade Recipe (Marinado de Naranja Agria)

Bitter orange
By Zeynel Cebeci (Own work) [ CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ratings (5)
  • Total: 10 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 5 mins
  • Yield: 1 cup of marinade (serves 12)

Bitter oranges are often used in Caribbean cuisine as a breakdown agent in marinades. Sometimes called sour oranges, they add a unique citrus flavor to any kind of meat you might want to prepare. This marinade recipe goes well with pork, and I've also used it with chicken with great results.


  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 bitter oranges, or 3/4 cup bottled bitter orange juice
  • 3 tablespoonsolive oil
  • 1/4 bunch oregano, fresh and finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • Salt to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. Squeeze the juice from the bitter oranges into a mixing bowl.

  2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir.

  3. Immerse pork or another type of meat or chicken in the marinade for at least eight hours.

Tips, Variations and Other Information 

  • Bitter oranges grow on trees — specifically, the citrus aurantium tree. Their fruit is much sourer than regular oranges and, as the name suggests, they're bitter. The flesh carries a hint of an aftertaste when it's eaten raw. Bitter oranges are uglier than regular oranges, too, with thick, rough skin. 

  • Bitter orange trees are abundant in Florida and the southwest U.S., as well as in the Caribbean islands. The oranges themselves are sometimes hard to find outside these regions, but you can make a passable substitute for sour orange juice by combining two parts regular orange juice with one part lemon juice and one part lime juice. Or, as an alternative, try two parts orange juice with one part grapefruit juice and a teaspoon of lime juice.

  • Add minced hot peppers if you prefer a spicier marinade. 

  • Marinating is best accomplished in the refrigerator for optimum food safety, not at room temperature. Enclose the meat or chicken in a sealable plastic bag or bags. Work the marinade in with your fingers through the bag, then place it in the refrigerator overnight or for at least eight hours. 

  • Do not reuse leftover marinade for other dishes, even if you refrigerate it. The contact with raw chicken or meat renders it unsafe. 

  • If you're making chicken, consider removing the skin first before marinating so the flavor has a chance to soak into the flesh. 

  • You may have heard rumors that bitter orange — and particularly bitter orange peel extracts — are great for weight loss. They've been substituted for ephedra in products containing ephedrine since the FDA banned these substances in 2004. Bitter orange isn't an entirely safe for weight loss either, however, because it contains synephrine, a compound similar to ephedrine. Although bitter orange is generally considered safe when added to recipes, those with heart conditions or high blood pressure might want to avoid it, at least check with their doctors first. Bitter orange can also cause a reaction if you consume a lot of caffeine or take MAO inhibitors for depression.