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Cousin Cara Cara

February 18, 1998|DAVID KARP

The pink-fleshed Cara Cara navel orange may resemble a pallid blood orange, but it's different in origin, chemistry and taste. It's pigmented with lycopenes, the same substances that color pink and red grapefruit. On the outside, the Cara Cara resembles a regular navel, with a hint of pink blush. On the inside, it's a gorgeous deep salmon. The taste is sweet, with delightful tutti-frutti overtones. Oddly, the juice is not pink but yellow-orange.

The variety originated as a sport on a limb of a Washington Navel at the Hacienda Cara Cara in Venezuela in the early 1970s.

It was first planted in Florida early this decade and marketed as a "red navel" in the last three years. As grown in Florida, however, the Cara Cara is pale, watery and insipid.

Growers in the San Joaquin Valley have planted several hundred acres, but the first crop, this season, yielded only tiny quantities. Although few fruits remain from this harvest, the Welburn Farm stand at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market should have some organic Cara Caras for sale this Saturday. When production increases, the season will run from November to April.

On a recent morning, Frank Marshall inspected a 4-year-old grove of Cara Caras that he manages in Orange Grove in the Central Valley. He bent over to pick an orange, cut it open and smiled at the deep pink flesh. "This is a dynamite piece of fruit," he exclaimed. "It's new, unique and tasty. In a few years, you'll see them everywhere."

The Cara Cara isn't the only lycopene-colored orange. A few growers in the Central Valley have trees of Vaniglia Sanguigno, an old Italian variety of acid-free orange that tastes a bit like an orange Creamsicle.

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