Cara Cara oranges are a fruit that citrus insiders — imagine being a member of that exclusive club — have been fans of for quite some time. This variety of navel orange actually first became available in the United States back in the late 1980s. However, it wasn't until recently that we started noticing fruit eaters everywhere getting excited about Cara Caras. We've seen them for sale at larger grocery chains — not just farmer’s markets — and over the past few weeks, several of our Money Diarists have coincidentally mentioned snacking on Cara Caras. Still, even with all this new attention, some confusion around the oranges remains. As Cara Caras transition from a speciality fruit to a mainstream snack, we're exploring what exactly they are and why, all of a sudden, everyone seems to be eating them.
If you're the type of shopper who likes to stick to your grocery list and get in and out of the store as fast as possible, you may not even know about the Cara Cara's existence. Well, as we mentioned before, it's a variety of navel that has pink flesh instead of that classic orange interior. The pink shade is caused by the presence of lycopene, the same antioxidant that gives tomatoes their red color, Joan Wickham, director of communications for Sunkist Growers, told Refinery29.
The differences between Cara Caras and other navel orange varieties are more than just skin deep. They differ in flavor, too. Monique Bienvenue, Bee Sweet Citrus' director of communications, points out that the pink navels are less acidic than other citrus varieties and have a sweet, "berry-like" flavor.
With all they have to offer, it's interesting that we're only just now seeing Cara Caras gaining mainstream popularity. Bienvenue credits the growing interest in "America's farm-to-fork movement" for the Caras' recent rise. "While Cara Cara navels have been around for quite some time, there hasn’t been as much of a focus on specialty produce until the last decade or so. Foodies, bloggers, health enthusiasts, and chefs have really helped to shape today’s modern food scene by highlighting seasonal foods, and calling out unique flavors in meals and drinks," she says.
There's no doubt that the farm-to-table movement had great influence on Cara Cara's popularity expanding over the past decade, but what about their rise in just the past couple of years? Wickhams thinks this may be thanks to Instagram. "I tell people a lot that I think Instagram has been one of the best things to happen to the citrus industry. Partially, we’ve had trouble merchandising Caras because if they’re just in the store in a bulk section of fruit, they seem like they’re just going to be a more expensive navel orange because there’s no difference on the outside. But, with Instagram and so many gorgeous photos of the interior of citrus fruits, I think we’re beginning to get some of those education points to consumers," Wickham explains. That's right, the same social media platform that has spread the word about food gimmicks like Unicorn Fappuccinos and rainbow bagels is also sharing information about specialty fruit, like the fact that they're in season during winter and they're usually seedless.
Unlike the Unicorn Frappuccino, however, Cara Caras are a food trend that both citrus experts agree is here to stay. With their color, flavor, and nutritional value, Caras have exactly what modern consumers look for in their fruit purchases. "As more and more consumers continue to make a conscious effort to eat healthy foods and focus on making their own meals, there’s no doubt that they will continue to seek out specialty produce items like Cara Cara navels," Bienvenue tells us. She added that the Cara's uniquely sweet flavor lends itself to use in many different dishes or as a standalone snack, which makes it stand out amongst other specialty produce.
Wickham agrees that Caras are a particularly promising fruit variety. In 2016, Sunkist conducted research that showed only 22% of consumers had heard of Cara Caras, and of those, 60% had tried them. The most intriguing statistic they came up with, though, is that 85% of consumers who tried them, made repeat purchases. So, as more people get educated about and tries these pink navels, their popularity will undoubtedly continue to grow. In the meantime, the Cara Cara’s production cycle needs time to catch up. "Because it takes five to six years for a citrus tree to produce, it takes some time to get enough acreage into production so there’s enough to buy to really kickstart strong demand. I think that we’re at that place now with Cara Caras, so I think we’re going to continue to see that trend," Wickham says. While we wait for more Cara Cara trees to mature, we'll just be over here scrolling through our feeds searching for the next Insta-famous fruit.