Orange blossoms are the flowers from the bitter orange tree, Citrus Aurantium Linnaeus. Originating in China, the bitter orange tree was probably introduced to southern France somewhere between the tenth and eleventh centuries AD byt the conquering Arabs. It remained the only orange known to Europeans for about five centuries. Since the fruit of this tree is so unpalatable (though more sour than bitter from this author's first hand experience) it is no wonder that products for fragrances were developed. Distilled oil of orange flower appeared as early as the sixteenth century but only when it was used in 1680 by the Duchess Favio Orsini, a member of a noble and powerful Roman family, did it emerge as a fashionable fragrance article. Since this lady was also known as the Princess of Neroli, or Nerola, a town situated roughly thirty kilometers northwest of Rome, the name oil of neroli was adopted and remains in current use.
While this is probably the most glamorous tale of orange blossoms use, it is by no means the only reason for the success of products from Citrus Aurantium. The peel of the fruit is used in marmalade, a bitter but popular jam. In Italy, for instance, where bitter-tasting products are more accepted than in the United States, the juice from the fruit is used in beverage flavors such as Chinotto and Aranciata, both popular bitter orange sodas. Orange blossom and related products have been used in beverages, ice cream, ices, candy, baked goods, chewing gum, gelatins, and puddings. It may well be that orange flower water absolute became commerically available as a result of an effort to reduce the exported volume of orange flower water. This was done to decrease the cost of freight and custom duties levied on orange flower water.