Produce Pete: Colorful Cara Cara Oranges

Local fruit and vegetable expert "Produce Pete" sweetens up to citrus season.

Colorful Cara Cara navel oranges are sweet, juicy, and pack a great nutritional punch. Photo by Susan Bloom

Having been in the produce business for 70 years now—ever since I was a five-year-old kid helping my father sell produce door-to-door throughout North Jersey and later at our family business, Napolitano’s Produce in Bergenfield—I’ve always been excited to see new varieties of any fruit or vegetable come onto the market. And Cara Cara navel oranges are no different.

Facts About Cara Cara Oranges

If you’re not that familiar with this popular newer variety, Cara Cara oranges are pink-fleshed citrus fruits that originated as a mutation on a Washington navel orange tree in Venezuela in 1976. Cara Cara oranges are extremely sweet and have a slightly lower acidity level than navels, along with a hint of cranberry or blackberry flavor. On top of their supreme taste and beautiful coloring, Cara Cara oranges contain 20 percent more vitamin C and 30 percent more vitamin A than regular navel oranges. They also have a healthy dose of cancer-fighting lycopene, so pack a great nutritional punch, and are an especially good way to boost immunity in the cold-weather months.

From the outside, these citrus beauties look like your run-of-the-mill, bright-skinned navel oranges. Cut them open, however, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. With their distinct pinkish-red and orange flesh, Cara Cara navel oranges appear similar to ruby red grapefruit, but beyond their color and their categorization as a citrus fruit, the similarities end there. These medium-size oranges with a glossy, textured rind and a peel that clings to the flesh taste sweeter than other oranges, are extremely juicy, and sport a flavor profile that’s far more comparable to tangerines, with robust and complex citrus aromatics. Their flesh is also seedless, an advantage among any fruit.

Grown in California, Cara Caras reach their peak season between December and April and are plentiful now.

Other Reasons to Love Cara Cara Oranges

I love the uniqueness of these oranges, but they have some other special qualities as well. Among them:

—You don’t have to pucker up when you eat them. They’re low in acid, so they aren’t sour like other types of citrus can be.
—Their berry-infused flavor gives them an unforgettable taste.
—They’re packed with juice, so squeezing these oranges for juice is easy and provides a delicious homemade beverage.
—Cara Cara orange trees are easy to grow and don’t need a lot of attention; you can even grow one in a container indoors or outside in a pot and watch it flourish. If growing it indoors, place it by a sunny window, give your tree a little water every few days, and you’ll have oranges growing in no time.
—The citrus aroma provided by Cara Cara trees is irresistible and will naturally sweeten and freshen the air around your home such that you won’t need candles or chemical sprays to give your home a clean citrus scent. Once its white blossoms erupt, the Cara Cara tree’s citrus scent will be even stronger and will also provide an eye-catching display of color against your other foliage.

Produce Pete discusses the unique properties of Cara Cara navel oranges while anchorwoman Pat Battle samples them during a recent segment on NBC Weekend Today in New York. Photo courtesy of Pete Napolitano/NBC

Selection and Storage

When selecting, choose oranges that are firm, shiny, and heavy for their size (a sign of juiciness) and avoid ones that have soft spots, blemishes, or feel squishy (which can indicate decay). As with other citrus fruits, store Cara Cara oranges in a cool spot; kept on the counter, they’ll last three to four days, but if you store them in the refrigerator, they’ll last up to two weeks.

Preparation

Eat Cara Cara oranges just as you would other types of navel oranges—by peeling away the rind and eating them section by section, blending them into smoothies or a fresh-squeezed glass of juice. Adding them to salads for a refreshing citrus twist, and making citrus curd are just a few of my favorite ways to enjoy Cara Caras.

I’m a big fan of this newer variety of oranges and I love eating them out of hand or in a delicious baked good like my wife Bette’s Cara Cara muffins, which I know you’ll love too! Happy New Year, and hope you get your fill of this popular and festive fruit while they’re in season!

Bette’s Best Cara Cara Muffins

Yields one dozen muffins in a standard muffin pan

Ingredients:

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 Cara Cara oranges, zested then juiced (save juice for topping only)
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and generously grease a muffin pan. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix until well-blended, then stir the flour into the mixture. In a separate bowl, add the buttermilk, baking soda, and salt and stir well. Add the buttermilk mixture and the orange zest to the batter. Stir until well-blended but don’t overbeat the mixture. Spoon the batter into the muffin pan until cups are about 2/3 full. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes; the tops should be a light golden color. Drizzle on topping and enjoy!

For the Topping

Mix the Cara Cara orange juice and brown sugar. Remove muffins from the oven and drizzle topping over the muffins when they’re still warm.

About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author, and television personality who’s appeared on a highly-popular segment on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York broadcast every Saturday mornings for over 27 years.  For more information, visit Pete’s website.

About Susan Bloom
A contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for nearly a decade.

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