You can teach an old orange new tricks. Navel oranges have been grown in California since the 1870s, but in the 1970s, a chance mutation yielded the Cara Cara (it was found on a Venezuelan orange plantation called Hacienda Cara Cara). It’s basically a navel orange with a difference -- its flesh is tinged pinkish with lycopene, the same pigment that colors ruby red grapefruit. Lycopene is flavorless so the difference is mainly cosmetic, but the Cara Cara is still a wonderfully sweet orange for eating out of hand.
A more traditional favorite at this time of year is the blood orange, which has been around practically forever, but has only become popular in this country in the last decade. Expect to see them showing up on restaurant menus, paired with fennel for a popular salad, or used in sorbets or as garnish for desserts. Blood oranges get their color from the same anthocyanin pigment that gives raspberries theirs. And though the chemical compound itself has no flavor, there is a shared berry taste between blood oranges and raspberries.
There are actually several varieties of blood orange and they ripen at different times. The ones we’re seeing now, the first to ripen, are the Moros. They have the deepest and most consistent color but often are not as sweet as other varieties. Most citrus aficionados prefer Tarocco blood oranges for flavor. They’ll be along a little later in the winter.
Choosing: Select oranges that are heaviest for their size. In most cases, pay no attention to the color of the skin, which can be influenced by variety and also by dyeing at the packing shed. Sometimes, in fact, perfectly ripe oranges will have green patches on the skin -- this usually happens late in the season with fruit that hadn’t been picked by the time the trees started to blossom again.
Storing: Because oranges have relatively thick peels, they can be stored at room temperature for up to a couple of weeks. Refrigerating doesn’t hurt oranges, though, so that’s fine if that’s what you prefer.