mutant navel oranges

Navels: The Mutant Oranges

Navel oranges are a common citrus fruit and one of the most popular oranges in the world. That wasn’t always the case, however. In fact, navel oranges should have never existed. They don’t have seeds and they can’t self-propagate. Yet in the early 1800s, through a mutation of a sweet orange tree at a Brazillian monastery, the first navel orange appeared. The fruit was sweeter than other oranges, it didn’t contain seeds and it was easier to peel. It was an unexpected advancement for the world of citrus.

After the discovery of the mutated tree, it was able to be reproduced through cutting and grafting. A couple of years after its discovery, navel orange seedlings were sent to the United States Department of Agriculture. It didn’t take long before the trees were planted in southern California, in an environment where they could thrive in the mild winters. The popularity of navel orange trees took off and California is now one of their leading producers.

citrus treeIt’s strange to think that today’s navel orange trees are all genetic clones of that original tree in Brazil. What’s even stranger, is that what looks like a navel at the bottom of the orange is actually an undeveloped twin orange that started growing inside of the peel. Weird but just another part of the fruit’s mutation. If you’re not sure what kind of orange you have, the presence of a navel is always a clear indication that it’s a navel orange, as obvious as that may sound.

Navel oranges are ripe from winter to spring. When buying, look for firm fruits that are heavy for their size. A heavy orange means a juicy orange. Don’t worry about green or other discoloration on the peel, as it’s not an indication of ripeness. Oranges ripen fully before harvesting and do not continue to ripen after picking. Of course, you’ll want to avoid those with soft spots. If storing oranges at room temperature, they’ll do fine for about a week. In the fridge, they’ll keep for two weeks or more.

Out of all the kinds of oranges you can pick from, navels continue to be a reliable choice, especially for eating fresh. The lack of seeds, simplicity of their peeling and segmenting, and their natural sweetness make them hard to resist.

Check out a few of our recipes featuring oranges:
Citrus Vinaigrette
BBQ Orange Chicken Thighs
Orange Maple Glazed Carrots


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