Candles are still a worthwhile second or third backup option for an emergency light source, even though almost any combination of an LED light and rechargeable battery now blows away the best candle by any metric that matters — size, weight, lumens, reusability, durability, safety, cost, etc..
The one advantage candles still have over modern light sources is that anyone can make a passable one using a few primitive tools and materials. A case in point: we recently stumbled across a meme that says you can turn an ordinary orange into a candle.
We decided to find out whether this actually works, and if it’s legitimately useful in an emergency.
The bottom line: Yes it works, but it’s a finicky process with questionable prepping utility.
A clockwork orange
Why does an orange work as a candle and not an apple or a banana? It has to do with the orange’s anatomy — specifically the fibrous core, or pith, which acts as a wick.
Working out from the core, the flesh of the orange that we actually eat is the endocarp, which is made up of carpels that we usually call orange wedges.
The orange is covered in a tough skin we call the rind, which is made of two parts. The very outside of an orange, what we usually refer to as “zest” is the exocarp. Just under the exocarp is the white part of the rind known as the mesocarp.
The trick to turning an orange into a candle is to remove the juicy endocarp while leaving the core and rind intact. The core serves as the wick and the rind holds the fuel.
There are a few different methods advertised online, but here is what I found to be the most reliable. First, take a very sharp knife and slice into the rind around the center of the orange, parallel to the stem. Do not cut through the orange, because that will fray the pith and make it useless as a wick.
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Once you’ve bisected the rind, work your thumb between the rind and the endocarp on the half that has the stem. The goal here is to gently separate the rind from the meat.
Once the rind is separated from the interior, very slowly pull the two halves of the orange apart. If you did it correctly, you’ll have two halves of an orange, with the end you worked loose having loose carpels around the pith. Pulling the orange apart might even have taken some of those loose carpels with the other end.
Finally, use your fingers to scoop out the rest of the carpels without disturbing the pith. Once you’re finished, you should have a “bowl” with a stem sticking up from the middle. It may take a few attempts to get it right.
Lighting the orange candle
The hard part is now over. Next, you need to fill your orange candle with oil and light it. But before you do that, you may need to stabilize the orange so it isn’t wobbling all over your counter. I found it helpful to put the orange in a ramekin.
Take olive oil and pour it into the orange half, making sure to pour the oil directly over the wick so it gets good and soaked. You want to fill up the orange with oil so it gets as close to the top of the wick as possible. Then light the wick, ideally with a candle, grill lighter, or a long match. It may take a few seconds to get the wick to light.
Best strike anywhere match:
PBL Matches Strike Almost Anywhere
Best long matches:
Diamond Long Reach
One last thing you can do is scoop out the other half of the orange and cut a small hole in the top to act as a wind shield.
Orange you glad to have a flashlight?
So yes, you can turn an orange into a candle, but is it good for anything other than a party trick? Probably not, unless you’re living in an orange grove during hurricane season. It’s a finicky process that depends on having a sharp knife, oranges, and olive oil on hand, and it’s definitely not something I’d want to attempt in the dark.
It also doesn’t smell as nice as you’d think. Instead of filling the house with the smell of oranges, it smells like burning rope and olive oil, though thankfully it’s not a strong smell.
Maybe keep this trick up your sleeve, but for reliable lighting during a power outage, you’ll be better served with flashlights, headlamps, or even regular candles.