Varieties of Navel Oranges
When you think of types of oranges, you may be thinking of navel oranges, blood (also called moro oranges by some) oranges or even Valencia oranges. You might be selling oranges short if this is all you can think of. Many people include tangerines in this list, and even clementines. Others think these are a different variety of fruit. Either way, they are a testament to how many varieties of oranges there really are on this earth.
Navel oranges are amongst some of the most prized oranges available. They have a long growing season and are juicy and delicious. Their thick skin allows for great zesting, which means grating the peel. Many culinary applications call for orange or other citrus zest, and the more peel you get, the better the chance of you flavoring your dish properly. The thick peel also means less of the bitter white pith underneath when you zest an orange, which could ruin the taste of your dish.
Though most just think of navel oranges generically, the truth is that they are actually quite diverse in size. In fact, not only are there small, medium and large navel oranges available (depending on the growing season and what time of year we are talking about), there are also two different varieties of navel oranges.
Traditional navel oranges are what you expect. They are available from November through May most years. There is of course a little bit of wiggle room in that time frame depending on the amount of rain and how hot or cold the growing season was. But from January through April, there is a variety of navel oranges called the Cara Cara.
The Cara Cara navel oranges definitely look different from traditional navel oranges both on the outside and the inside. The outside of Cara Cara navel oranges are a richer, darker orange than traditional navel oranges. Though the peel feels the same, the color is much darker. You should still inspect this navel oranges variety for soft spots, discoloration or places where the peel feels disconnected from the fruit. These are all signs of potentially rotten or rotting fruit, just like traditional navel oranges.
The inside of Cara Cara navel oranges are also very different than traditional ones. They have a rich, dark pink look. Some may even have a red coloring. In fact, if you broke open these navel oranges varietals and put them next to a peeled grapefruit, many people would have a hard time distinguishing the two. The inside looks very much like a ruby red grapefruit. The taste and smell, of course, are very different. Cara Caras are generally hard to find, so visit a farmers market or specialty store to try and get some in the spring.