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Cara cara oranges are a special cultivar of a navel orange that are distinguished by their rosy flesh. Depending on the fruit, the color may range from a pinkish to a deep red, much like that of the grapefruit. Unlike grapefruits, however, these oranges are very low in acid, with a naturally sweet flavor. Some people feel that they are superior to other navel orange varieties in flavor, and they are often in high demand in produce markets when they are in season.
This variety of orange is believed to have developed accidentally, perhaps through a cross of other varietals. Cara caras were discovered at the Hacienda de Cara Cara in Venezuela in 1976, and their origins were a bit unclear, leading some people to classify them as a mutation, rather than a true cross; navel oranges are themselves a mutation, and they have not been known to propagate themselves spontaneously. By the 1980s, cara caras had reached the United States, although they were only available in specialty markets.
Like other naval oranges, cara cara oranges have a partially developed fruit enclosed inside the larger orange. A good orange will feel heavy for its size, indicating that it is very juicy. The season for these oranges peaks at the height of winter, meaning that they are available primarily in December and January in the Northern Hemisphere. Unlike the blood orange, another orange with a distinctive pigment, the rind of the cara cara does not betray the color of the interior, and is typically a bright, glossy orange.
These oranges can be used in a variety of ways. Their slightly berry-like, sweet flavor tastes delicious when eaten alone and in fruit salads, and the oranges can also be juiced, eaten with yogurt or granola, or cooked into jams, jellies, and other spreads.
Cara cara oranges can be grown in USDA zones 11 and above. They are propagated through cuttings that are grafted to other orange trees, retaining the mutation. Some garden stores sell seedlings, and they can also be ordered through nursery suppliers. Like other oranges, the plants like lots of sun, fertile soil, and plenty of water to thrive. The fruit must be protected from frost, especially when it is setting, and the roots should be mulched to help the trees retain water.