There are several varieties of navel oranges. They all have thick, rough, bright orange skins that are easy to peel. The segments of the navel orange are easy to separate.
You will find navel oranges at the farm market from fall through spring.
The navel orange gets its name from a depression or hole at the blossom end of the fruit opposite the stem that encloses a small undeveloped secondary fruit. The depression looks like a human navel and thus the name. (As the secondary fruit enlarges, the navel enlarges.)
The original navel orange was the result of the mutation of a common sweet orange growing in an orchard at a monastery in Brazil in 1820. A cutting from that tree was sent to Washington, D.C., in 1870 for propagation. As a result, the original navel orange variety came to be called the Washington navel orange.
In the late nineteenth century, Washington navel oranges were distributed around the United States for general cultivation. They were so well suited for the climate of Southern California that they spawned the California citrus industry. The navel orange is the most commonly grown orange in California today.
The Washington navel orange ripens from fall into winter, and the fruit will keep on the tree for 3 to 4 months.
Other navel orange varieties are sports or mutations of the original Washington. When plant mutations result in desirable traits, they are often developed by growers into separate varieties.
Washington navel sports include:
Cara Cara: a navel orange with a flavorful, juicy pink flesh. Cara Cara is sweet and mildly acidic. Its flavor is reminiscent of strawberries and raspberries.
Cara Cara was discovered on a Washington tree growing in Venezuela. Sometimes Cara Cara is called Red Navel. It ripens from fall into winter.
Fukumoto: a sweet and juicy navel with a reddish-orange rind. This is a medium-sized orange that ripens about one week before the Washington.
Lane Late: similar to the Washington but has a smaller navel and smoother skin. This variety was discovered in Australia in 1950. Lane Late ripens 4 to 6 weeks later than the Washington. The Lane Late is sometimes called a summer navel.
Riverside: this navel orange is the original Washington navel orange by a different name. A cutting of the Washington was sent to Riverside, California in 1870. This was the Washington orange that started commercial orange growing in California. (Bahai is yet another name for the Washington and Riverside navel orange. Bahia is the region of Brazil where the original Washington was discovered.)
Robertson: has medium-large fruit just like the Washington but this variety ripens 2 to 3 weeks earlier than the Washington. The Robertson, which is moderately juicy, bears its fruit in clusters.
Skaggs Bonanza: is a medium-large to large navel orange that bears more fruit than the Washington and ripens 2 weeks earlier. Skaggs Bonanza has a rich and sweet flavor and is moderately juicy.
How to Choose an Orange. Select an orange that is firm and heavy for its size. A heavy orange will be a juicy orange. Avoid oranges that are spongy or have mold. Rough brown russeting on the rind of an orange will not affect the flavor or quality. A slight greening of the orange rind will not affect the quality. An orange with a green tint to its rind can be ripe and ready to eat.
Store. Oranges will keep in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for up to a month, or they will store in a cool, dark place in the kitchen for a week.