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Oct 5, 2007 07:33 AM

Those tasteless, juiceless navel oranges

Okay, I'm in Canada. So my local/seasonal fruit options are limited most of the year (I eat plenty of local apples year-round, and hit the farmer's markets in season).

But in the dead of winter, I need something other than bananas and stored apples. While it seems ridiculous to buy oranges from as far afield as South Africa, there is of course no local citrus, and I don't really see Florida citrus around either.

It seems to me up until the past few years, oranges were pretty much guaranteed to have some flavour and juice. Some better than others of course, but always edible.

But in recent years, more and more often, I peel a thick-skinned navel orange and can immediately tell that it has NO chow value. Inedible. Devoid of juice, resulting in weird dry texture, and tasteless.

I've pretty much given up buying oranges as a result. Do I need to shop the ethnic markets and get the thin-skinned, greenish oranges which seem more reliable, but I guess aren't pretty enough for the mainstream grocery?

Any other tips, tricks, rants...?

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  1. I've gotten into the habit of only buying cara cara oranges when the navels are available ..these are usually quite a step above the regular navels

    1 Reply
    1. re: Hue

      I've tried to like cara cara oranges, but I find them to be bland -- I think they're too low acid for my taste, part of the whole trend of varietal fruits with less acid and more sugar.

    2. Worse yet is paying a premium for an orange that has an inch thich pith. I actually think it would be worthwhile ordering them from Florida in season.

      1 Reply
      1. re: monavano

        My research as a gardener says that a heavy pith is a sign of overfertilization.

      2. Florida? The vast majority of Florida oranges end up in commercial grade juice... California grows the U.S. oranges that are typically eaten. Oranges have gotten crappy... I used to work for an Ag company that grew & processed lots & lots of oranges... and have some insight. Over the last decades... the Orange groves of Orange County (The OC.. dude)... have been torn down to make space for residential & commercial craprchitected developments... now the bulk of Orange production is in the Central Valley which has a bit more extreme weather than Southern California.... predictably Global Warming with its strange & unintuitive results has steadily increased the number of freezing days in the Central Valley over the last decade... and the quality of oranges has payed the price.

        Although I should mention that another trend has been the increased exports to China & Japan... such that a super premium export grade of Oranges was created and it tends to steal the best fruit. When I worked there... one of our big projects was a machine that could insert a very, very small probe into each Orange to test for sweetness, acidity, brix etc.,... as far as I know the machine wasn't fine tuned yet... but it did narrow the lots down enough so that humans with good noses (poorly paid, immigrant women usually over 40) could spot the likely sweet ones & pack those in the premium export containers. Even without that step... after the washing & waxing step.... there was a Sorting machine than used a laser scanner & scale to calculate blemishes, color, size, weight & density in a very short amount of time... its not surprising that lower density fruit (the kind that is almost always dry & without juice) ends up being in the less lucrative domestic market (including Canada).

        The Orange might be my favorite fruit... so forgive me for rambling on... but I remember clearly it was the Summer of 1992 the great year of the Chilean orange deluge.... we would buy 50 pound sacks from a truck that would park on our street (East L.A.)... for $10... and I swear you could squeeze a 12oz glass of juice... out of 3 or 4 oranges... and they were such a deep orange color & so sweet... I could have sworn I was in Mexico. Unfortunately... Chile ended up signing export agreements with the EU & Japan.... and we now have to compete for the great fruit... against the EU & Japan which have a higher Cost of Living (and thus can pay more money for it).

        Among those bogus things of North American politics.... despite NAFTA... the U.S. still puts restrictions on Mexican oranges as they pander to the California & Florida citrus lobbies. So for now I just have to look forward to my next trip to Mexico Lindo y Querido for a decent glass of OJ.

        17 Replies
        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          Sure, Florida. We get fabulous oranges when we visit my in-laws down there. But, thanks for the interesting history lesson.

          1. re: monavano

            Yep, I've had amazing oranges when visiting my family down there in November-March. And Dad sends me a box every year of the sweetest, juicest oranges you could ever want.

            I've pretty much given up on eating oranges out of season. Apples too.

            1. re: Chris VR

              Chris- try Wilson Farms for oranges- my mom swears by them. I am not a big orange person- but I LOVE their red grapefruits. Not always available, but I always but a bunch when they are. This week I am hoping they have thier own grown butternut- time to stock up for the winter!!

              1. re: macca

                Thanks! I have GOT to get there. Wonder where the oranges are from?

                1. re: Chris VR

                  No idea- but I am going there tomorrow, and will see if they will tell me.

              2. re: Chris VR

                Just talked to Dad, and he tell me this: In Florida, Navels are in season November-January. The oranges he thinks are best are Honeybelles and they have a short season, only a few weeks in January. Then Valencias are in season Feb-May. He always ships his oranges from Snell Groves, just outside of Tampa. The website seems to be offline but the URL is and you can see his catalog at
                The phone number is 1-800-393-1999

                Fred J Snell Groves
                8821 Ridge Rd, New Port Richey, FL

            2. re: Eat_Nopal

              I only supposed Florida might have good oranges because I've seen posters talk about ordering citrus from there. All of what you say makes sense and is very interesting.
              So, I think I need to smell my oranges (my nose is pretty good for tomatoes at least), and make sure to have some OJ when I go to Mexico next month. I'm usually preoccupied by more exotic fruits there so this is a great tip. Thanks.

              1. re: julesrules

                Yup... getting OJ shouldn't be hard most hotels offer fresh squeezed (although its very early in the season)... and in urban areas you will find street vendors setting up along the routes people walk to work...

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Gees time goes by quick... its going to be November already! There should be plenty of good Oranges by the time you get there.

                2. re: julesrules

                  I forgot to mention... that you should descreetly pierce the skin a little bit prior to sniffing. The floral aspect of Orange zest is very powerful so it takes some practice to detect the sweet tones... I have never gotten good at it myself.

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    Pierece the skin? Eeww. So the person who ultimately buys that orange gets the added benefit of all the bacteria from the piercing (presumably with a fingernail - who shops with a clean paring knife?).

                    1. re: CynD

                      You don't have to get through the skin... also I am assuming you will have filtered through them via the density criteria... hence your chances of buying them would be very high.

                  2. re: julesrules

                    Florida does have good oranges. With all due respect to my now-fellow Californians, I moved from Tampa Bay to San Jose about five years ago, and while I like many things out here more, the oranges are not among them. Florida's may well mostly be for 'commercial juicing,' but, well, the commercial juices there taste better than the commercial juices here. And so did the non-commercial juices.

                    I'm not sure where would be a good place to order from. Many years ago I lived near Albritton Fruit in Sarasota, Florida, and I know they're still around, but I have to suspect most places that ship fruit as 'gift baskets' are overpriced.

                    1. re: Chipotle

                      Most citrus loves heat and sun. The more, the better. Grapefruits require the most to attain sweetness - this is why Texas has a great rep for their grapefruits. I live in the coastal region of LA - we have a naval orange tree in our backyard that produces two crops a year. The winter crop is almost always sweet and juicy, while the early summer crop is usually watery to pretty good. My assumption is that as long as the crop gets a healthy dose of sunshine and a reasonable amount of heat during the first four monthes of growth, the fruit attains its sweetness. I used to baby the tree making sure it got plenty of feedings and water which ultimately produced so-so results. An old-timer down the street told me to leave it alone - only water it occasionally and deep - never feed it unless it shows signs of iron deficiency. After following his advice, it's worked most of the time. Citrus trees are tough customers - they can tolerate alot of neglect - in fact seem to thrive on it. Maybe citrus growers in CA are giving their trees too much love?

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      Interesting reply, however, as a Florida citrus grower, I feel the necessity to set the record straight. You indicated that most Florida oranges end up in commercial grade juice, as if to imply they were inferior to California. To the contrary, the reason why 90% of the processed citrus industry is located in Florida is because the fruit contains higher amounts of sugar and juice than California: simply put, Florida fruit is sweeter. The growing conditions that produce this sweeter fruit (higher rainfall, gulfstream breezes, humidity) also produce fruit with more surface blemishes, which makes it much harder to grow fruit from Florida for the fresh market, where consumers demand fruit with little to no blemishes. So, contrary to your post, the only reason that California fruit is found fresh more is the growing environment which produces more blemish free fruit, not because the fruit is sweeter or of a finer eating quality. The highest grade fruit from Florida is also exported, or is sold as mail order/internet gifts.

                      1. re: balexanderbrown

                        totally agrre. jfood stopped buying cali navels years ago. if jfood does not see a grown in FL lable on the fruit, he does not buy it. there is absolutely no comparison.

                        keep up the good work. A little green and blemishes on the outside are no issue to jfood.

                    2. I live in the Boston area, and, like you, the supermarkets have not so good oranges out of season. I was able to find a local farm that has plentiful supplies of fruits, vegatable, bakery items, meats, cheese, etc. DOnt' know who they use for their oranges ( obviously not local!), but I bought some for my mother ( she loves oranges), and she said they were the best oranges she had ever eaten. Their red grapefruits are incredible, too. I wonder if there is any local famrs in your area like this. I have completely given up on the supermarkets for any of my produce- and make treks to the farmstand instead.

                      1. I try to buy local produce too (easier in CA than in Canada!), but navel oranges are an ideal fruit for a bag lunch since they don't get smooshed (unlike bananas or pears). I've bought oranges three times in the last week or so and a few were juicy and good, others dry and tasteless. It's frustrating because they're expensive and all look pretty much the same. I wish I could tell the difference.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Glencora

                          Density is the key. A little secret... hit the ethnic markets... the uglier, blemished oranges sell at a discount (and are just as likely... if not more likely to be sweet & juicy). At the very worst... for the same amount of dough... you can get 2 or 3 times as many oranges... giving you a better chance of finding the good ones.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            That's right, the way to pick good oranges in the supermarket is to only pick ones that feel heavy for their size. If you don't find a heavy one after 4 or 5 tries, put them down and walk away.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              All of that is interesting, but IMO Calfornia has never produced a decent naval orange ... and I moved to the state in the 1980's. The growing conditions aren't right and never were ... or it is a different variety.

                              When I first moved to the state I was appalled by the oranges having grown up on the East Coast which usually sold Florida oranges.

                              No one has mentioned Texas oranges which are right up there with Florida fruit. It is the one fruit I won't usually buy locally and always go for Texas / Florida fruit. And Valencia oranges ... ick ... is there really a reason for them.

                              I haven't had that much more luck, even less, with ugly oranges at ethinic markets. They are just cheaper, not better. However, living in CA the reason might be that they are all grown locally.

                              My suggestion is just buying a fruit that is heavy for its size. A light orange is a dry orange.

                              To the OP, have you posted on your local board asking about stores in your area that sell good oranges?

                              1. re: rworange

                                Valencias are terrible eating oranges but good for juice.
                                We're so used to seeing oranges in stores year round that we've forgotten that they really are seasonal and to a pretty great extent, they grow better in some places than others. Oranges from Texas and the Gulf South to Florida IMO are much more flavorful than CA oranges.
                                Here's a quick primer on citrus. Just remember that it's from Sunkist, a California/Arizona growers' coop so it doesn't apply to Florida.

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  Oh no they aren't- my favorite oranges are my MIL's Valencias. I don't juice them mostly, I cut them into wedges and let that sweet-tart full flavor roll.

                                2. re: rworange

                                  Appreciate the suggestion but it's just not something I want to go out of my way for - part of the appeal is ease. They were never my favourite fruit but an old reliable, ya know? And they just aren't anymore.
                                  I do have a variety of cheap, interesting produce stores in my area along with some fancier stores so I am going to pay closer attention this winter. For one thing I'm not sure we even get California oranges. And maybe the ones we get from the Southern Hemisphere are basically out of season in our winter, when I naturally turn to citrus, so even worse quality.

                                  1. re: julesrules

                                    That may be the problem. I haven't bought a supermarket orange in a few decades because they rarely have any taste. But I have a lot of good produce stores like Berkeley Bowl. The thing with oranges is they last forever in the crisper bin in the fridge so for me I can do one stop every few months and I'm set.