5 Facts About Navel Oranges That Might Surprise You!
One of the most popular fruits in the world, the classic navel orange is also one of the healthiest: navel orange nutrition includes high levels of Vitamins C and A, fiber and potassium. Navel oranges are a great snack for those watching their weight (there are only 17.5g of carbs in navel oranges, while navel orange calories typically come to about 69). And in addition to bolstering up your immune system and memory, navel oranges may even help protect you from heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
But what is a navel orange, exactly, and what makes it so special from other orange varieties? Read on for some fun facts about your favorite fruit that you may not have known:
Navel Oranges Hide a Secret Inside
What’s a navel orange, and how did it get its name? Navel oranges have a little surprise inside—once they’re peeled, you can see a partially formed, undeveloped fruit at the blossom end. From the outside, the blossom end looks like a person’s navel (hence the variety’s name).
Bonus fact: If you want absolutely amazing orange juice, go with Valencia vs. navel oranges. Valencia oranges have seeds, so they’re not as great for snacking, but they have plenty of delicious juice inside them!
All Navel Orange Trees Are Clones of Each Other
Do navel oranges have seeds? Some of them must or we wouldn’t have so many, right?
Nope. Navel oranges are the result of a chance mutation first discovered in the late 18th Century in Bahia, Brazil. A sweet orange tree located on the grounds of a Bahia monastery spontaneously grew a small crop of very sweet, seedless oranges. Their seedlessness and flavor made these oranges an instant hit, but without seeds the fruit had no way of reproducing on its own. Enter grafting, a four-thousand-year old technique by which farmers propagate a tree by cutting branches from the original tree and attaching them to closely related varieties nearby.
Soon after the discovery of the Brazilian navel orange tree, a dozen navel orange seedlings were sent to the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC. Five years later, a woman named Eliza Tibbets planted one of these seedlings at her home in Riverside, California, and it soon began producing fruit. Mrs. Tibbet’s success in growing navel oranges continued, and other Californian orange growers decided to take buds from her tree to grow trees of their own. What came to be known as the Washington Navel Orange is now the most popular type of navel orange in the world.
Bonus fact: Eliza Tibbet’s original Washington Navel Orange Tree is now a California Historical Landmark.
The Color was Named After the Fruit, Not the Other Way Around
The earliest recorded use of the word orange in English appears in the 1300s, and it was definitely talking about the citrus fruit. The word orange used to describe the color didn’t start showing up until about 200 years later, after the fruit was more widely available. Up until that time, there was no specific word for that particular color, which is not surprising when you consider that there are many, many colors on the spectrum and that no single language has separate words to describe them all. An orange-colored object probably would have been described as being “between yellow and red” in color before the 1500s.
Bonus fact. The Cara Cara Navel Orange (also known as the “red navel orange”) has an orange-colored peel, but the fruit’s flesh is deep red due to the presence of the antioxidant lycopene, which also gives the fruit a flavor reminiscent of red berries.
Greenish Oranges Are Actually More Ripe – Not Less
As oranges ripen, the heat from the sun draws chlorophyll out of the fruit’s skin, slowly turning it from orange to green. An orange with a little bit of green on its skin is actually more ripe (and, some say, more flavorful) than an orange with no green on it.
Bonus fact: unlike tomatoes, oranges do not ripen after they are picked.
Oranges Were Popular with Seafarers
The spread of oranges was due in a large part because traders and explorers carried them on their sea voyages to ward off scurvy, a deadly disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C in the diet. Christopher Columbus first brought Oranges to the New World in 1493.
Bonus fact: Oranges are good for more than eating! The oil in navel oranges (which is extracted from the rind) is often used in aromatherapy, cleaning products and green pesticides.