Navel oranges are a winter orange with thick, bright orange skin and sweet, juicy fruit. They can be used in cooking, in salads, desserts, and sauces, and for snacking on raw.
What Are Navel Oranges?
Navel oranges are a winter cultivar of the species Citrus sinensis, which also includes cultivars such as Cara Cara oranges, blood oranges, and Valencia oranges. Navel oranges are round to slightly oval and 3 to 4 inches in diameter, with medium to thick rind which is bright orange in color with a slightly pebbly texture. Underneath the rind is a white pith which is easily removed. The fruit itself is seedless and made up of 10 to 12 sections of tender, juicy flesh with a sweet, tangy, and tart flavor with low acidity.
Whole sweet oranges have been grown for thousands of years, the first navel orange tree was discovered in Brazil in 1820. They're named because of the small indentation on the outside of the rind, situated at the opposite end from the stem, that somewhat resembles a human navel. What that is actually, is an undeveloped "twin" fruit caused by a genetic mutation. Since navel oranges are seedless, they're cultivated via grafting, where a flowering bud is attached to another tree. This means that all navel orange trees are considered genetic clones of the original navel orange tree from Brazil.
Navel oranges are available from November through June, with peak season in January and February. They're used in cooking, for their juice, their zest, and for eating out of hand. Their thick skin makes them easy to peel.
How to Use Navel Oranges
Navel oranges are used in baking, including their zest and their juice, as well as for flavoring sauces and marinades, and can be cut up and served in salads. Other than squeezing a bit of juice for making salad dressings and sauces, they're not typically used for making orange juice, as their juice can become slightly bitter when exposed to oxygen, because of the presence of a compound called limonin. But perhaps the main way these fruits are used is for eating out of hand, for which, because they are seedless, they are particularly well-suited.
What Do They Taste Like?
Navel oranges have a sweet flavor, which is balanced with tanginess and tartness, but without too much acidity. As mentioned above, navel oranges contain a compound called limonin, which, when exposed to oxygen, can produce bitter or sour flavors. But this usually requires 30 minutes or so of exposure to oxygen. Therefore, sliced or peeled navel oranges eaten within this time frame shouldn't be affected.
A 100-gram serving of navel oranges is 87 percent water and provides 52 calories and 12 grams of carbs, along with 2 grams of fiber, less than one gram of protein, and negligible fat. It also provides 59 milligrams of vitamin C, which is about 72 percent of the USDA daily value, making navel oranges an excellent source of this nutrient.
Navel Orange Recipes
Navel oranges can be used in various dishes, such as salads, sauces, and desserts. In general, you can use navel oranges in recipes that call for oranges without specifying which variety.
Where to Buy Navel Oranges
Navel oranges are available throughout the winter into early spring, and can be found in grocery store produce sections and at farmers' markets. Look for ones that are firm and heavy with a bright orange hue and no soft or mushy spots.
Navel oranges should be kept in a dry place in cool or cold temperatures. You can keep them at room temperature for a day or two, but the best place to store them is in the refrigerator. The crisper drawer on the low humidity setting (i.e. with the vent all the way open) is the best place for navel oranges. They'll stay fresh there for three to four weeks as opposed to a week or less at room temperature.
Navel Oranges vs. Valencia Oranges
One particular variety of oranges that is sometimes compared with navel oranges are Valencia oranges. Valencias are the summer version of sweet oranges, and they have thinner skin and a higher juice content. They're the variety of orange usually used for making orange juice since they contain less of the bitterness-producing compound limonin.
Gualdani R, Cavalluzzi M, Lentini G, Habtemariam S. The Chemistry and Pharmacology of Citrus Limonoids. NCBI National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2016 Nov 13.
Navel oranges. FoodData Central, U.S. Department of Agriculture