Sunday, April 23, 2006

Navel Orange (Heirloom)

Berkeley Bowl has a good selection of interesting citrus varieties, including these heirloom Navel Oranges from the Rising C Ranch folks who operate According to their website, the oranges are grown using "Old Line" Washington Navel Trees and a combination of sweet and sour rootstock.

Grow Quest offers this useful account of the Navel orange's introduction to the United States,"In 1873, taking advantage of the North American diplomatic services established in Brazil, technicians specialized in citrus production in Riverside, California, received three seedlings of Bahia orange, from which came the seedlings that would later be spread all over the United States and other parts of the world with the name of Washington Navel. Therefore, the citrus exchange between the two countries is over a century old, and the Bahia orange was a fundamental base for that exchange."

Here's the Rising C Ranch write up on their approach:
We only use "old line" Washington Navel trees combined with sour and sweet orange rootstock. Both rootstocks are out of favor with most growers because of different inherited problems, but no other rootstocks can produce a better tasting piece of fruit.

While the flesh of these oranges is unusually pale, they are intensely flavorful.


Anonymous said...

There's no such thing as an heirloom navel orange. That's like an heirloom seedless watermelon. Navel oranges are all clonal.

happy consumptive said...

Since I come at this from the consuming side of things, I can't really comment on either the validity of ripetoyou's claims about "Old Line" trees or your observation that being clonal necessarily means they aren't heirloom. But I will say that if they are using stock that has fallen out of favor, and their oranges are markedly different than what most growers are producing I don't find the term heirloom offensive. Or at least I didn't four years ago. ;) Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I've got a bee in my bonnet because Trader Joe's started selling heirloom oranges, which is such an obvious marketing gimmick.

Among other things, for a vegetable to be an heirloom, it has to grow true from seed and be open pollinated. Oranges are all grafted like apples, so they don't meet this definition.

So what about apples? Everyone would agree that there are heirloom apples, so why not oranges? Heirloom apples are grated but heirloom varieties are heirloom because they've been around a long time and are no longer in widespread commercial cultivation. There are millions or acres of navel orange trees in cultivation around the world. They are like Red Delicious apples or Haas avocados which are grown in vast numbers. You can grow them organically and with tender loving care, but they will never be heirlooms until they have fallen out of favor and are not cultivated commercially. Growing navel oranges on a different rootstock doesn't make them heirloom oranges, just a variety of a monoculture grown on a different rootstock.

happy consumptive said...

Interesting. I've not heard criteria for "heirloom" before and it's not a phrase I value in particular. There are plenty of ho-hum tasting heirloom tomatoes out there. I've grown some.

I think the gap we'll find ourselves on either side of has to do with my understanding of the range of navel oranges among those millions of acres - all identical or even uniform in taste? And why of the many, many varieties of orange out there did Navel become ubiquitous in the first place?

I'm sure that whomever concocted a red delicious apple had a good reason for doing so. I've just never tasted an example that bears that out. I'm not sure I could be convinced that an heirloom red delicious would be worth the trouble.

Steven said...

An interesting discussion. I ended up here by googling "trader joe heirloom navel oranges". My thought is that definitions ARE important but speech is about effective communication. The term may be an advertising gimmick about purported quality, but it caught my eye and my interest. I am so glad it did. Amazing flavor. I would be the poorer if TJs had used another term and I had failed to be enticed. They stopped carrying them, btw.

Anonymous said...

I don't care whether they're actually classified 'heirloom' or not. I bought the Heirloom navel oranges in Albertson's in NV and now they tell me they can't get any more. Why is this? We don't have a Trader Joes in our town. Any other oranges we've tried are bitter but the Heirloom navel are as sweet as candy. Very disappointed we can't get them.

Anonymous said...

Heirloom Navel Oranges will be available at Sprouts Farmers Market starting next week.