A Brief History of Navel Oranges

By: Pittman & Davis | On: | Category: Fruit Information

Rio Ruby™ Red Grapefruit…Honeybells…Sumo Citrus®…Sol Zest. We at Pittman & Davis are committed to providing our customers with the freshest, best-quality citrus available, and we’re proud of the many varieties we offer…some you won’t find so easily in your local grocery store. But we’re also proud of our perhaps less exotic, but always popular grown-in-Florida and grown-in-Texas Navel Oranges.


What makes a Navel Orange a Navel Orange?

A Navel Orange is a sweet orange that, instead of seeds, sports a second, undeveloped “twin” fruit opposite its stem end. This undeveloped fruit is said to bear a resemblance to a human navel – hence the name, “Navel Orange.” Because Navel Oranges have no seeds, they can’t reproduce except through the horticultural technique known as grafting.

Nowadays, there are over fifty varieties of Navel Orange (including our rosy-fleshed, berry-tasting Cara Cara Navels), but the variety you’re probably most familiar with is the classic or Washington Navel Orange, which is genetically identical to the first Navel Orange ever discovered.


If They Have No Seeds, Where Do Navel Oranges Come From?

Navel Oranges are a fairly new citrus fruit that can be traced easily. Over 200 years ago, an ordinary orange tree growing on the grounds of a Brazilian monastery spontaneously produced a branch containing tangy-sweet, juicy oranges that were seedless. (This sort of spontaneous mutation is known as a biological “sport.”)

With its rich, sparkling flavor, the new fruit was an instant hit. But because it’s naturally seedless, new trees must be grown from the cuttings of old trees – a process known as grafting. Around a dozen cuttings from the very tree that first produced these unusual oranges in the peaceful grove in Brazil were sent to the US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC in the late 1800s. But it wasn’t until Eliza Tibbets, a California woman, planted one of these seedlings in the garden of her Riverside home and it began producing that the famous fruit began to get a wider audience in the United States. Mrs. Tibbet’s success in growing navel oranges continued, and growers in California, Florida and Texas took buds from her tree and began to grow trees of their own.

Eliza Tibbet’s parent tree was designated a California Historic Landmark in 1932, and no wonder – the fruit from her tree and its many descendants is now the most popular type of Navel Orange the world over.


Navel Oranges are Certainly Delicious, But Are They Good for You?

Navel Oranges are nutritional powerhouses! Packed with health benefits, Navel Oranges are (perhaps most famously) an excellent source of vitamin C, dietary fiber, and thiamin, as well as potassium, vitamin A, beta-carotene and even calcium. Regularly including Navel Oranges in your diet may help protect you from heart disease, cancer and diabetes, while also helping to improve your memory, blood pressure, immune system and your overall health. This sweet treat is a great snack if you want to stay slim, too – a typical Navel Orange is just 69 calories.


What Can Navel Oranges Be Used for Besides Eating Fresh?

Perfect for eating out of hand and not too drippy, Navel Oranges section up beautifully for a refreshing snack at any time. They also work in many recipes from salads to desserts. Since they are some of the sweetest and plumpest oranges available, Navel Oranges work exceptionally well as topping for fresh and fruit salads. The juice is especially tasty so long as it’s drunk while still very fresh (because Navel Oranges contain limonin, their juice tends to turn sour after half an hour). The fruit can be used to create sauces, added to bread, and cakes, and the zest used to make marmalade.

To Sum Up…

Delicious, good for you, and with a fascinating backstory to boot, Navel Oranges deserve their place on “The Most Popular Citrus Fruits” list. When trying new and exotic citrus fruits, don’t overlook this classic – knowing its history may give you a new appreciation for it!

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