Cara Cara oranges, also known as red-fleshed navel oranges, have become increasingly popular in recent years. With their distinctive pinkish-red flesh and sweet, tangy taste, Cara Caras offer a unique citrus experience compared to regular oranges. But are they really better for you than regular oranges? In this article, we’ll examine the nutritional benefits of Cara Cara oranges versus regular navel oranges to find out which variety delivers more nutrients and health advantages.
Nutritional Profile of Cara Cara Oranges
Like regular oranges, Cara Caras are an excellent source of vitamin C, providing about 70% of your daily value (DV) in one medium fruit. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that supports immune function and helps make collagen for healthy skin and tissues.
In addition to vitamin C, Cara Caras contain significant amounts of other vitamins and minerals:
- Folate – 14% DV. Folate (vitamin B9) is important for cell growth and DNA production.
- Potassium – 14% DV. Potassium supports heart health and muscle function.
- Thiamin – 11% DV. Thiamin (vitamin B1) helps convert food into energy.
- Vitamin A – 11% DV. Vitamin A promotes healthy vision and cell growth.
- Niacin – 10% DV. Niacin (vitamin B3) aids cholesterol levels and brain function.
Cara Caras provide about 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 250 mg of potassium, and 15 grams of carbohydrates per medium orange. They have a slightly higher natural sugar content than regular oranges at about 12 grams versus 9 grams.
Overall, the vitamin and mineral content is very similar between Cara Cara and regular navel oranges. The main nutritional differences are that Cara Caras contain a bit more natural sugars and antioxidants.
Antioxidants in Cara Cara Oranges
While both orange varieties deliver antioxidants like vitamin C, Cara Caras stand out for their levels of certain antioxidant pigments, especially lycopene and beta-carotene.
The pinkish hue of Cara Cara flesh comes from lycopene, the same antioxidant found in tomatoes and watermelon. Lycopene helps fight free radical damage in the body and may lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Cara Caras contain about 3.5 times more lycopene than regular Valencia oranges.
Cara Caras also have very high levels of beta-carotene, with about 3 times more beta-carotene than navel oranges. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body to promote healthy eyes and cell growth.
The increased antioxidants in Cara Caras are related to the red flesh color, which comes from higher concentrations of these beneficial plant pigments.
Potential Health Benefits
The nutritional profile of Cara Cara oranges, particularly their antioxidant content, suggests some potential health advantages over regular oranges:
May Lower Oxidative Stress
The abundance of antioxidants like lycopene and vitamin C means Cara Caras may be more effective at combating oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Oxidative stress is linked to many chronic diseases.
May Support Heart Health
The combination of antioxidants and potassium in Cara Caras can promote heart health by reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, and risk of stroke.
May Promote Healthy Vision
The high levels of beta-carotene and vitamin A indicate Cara Caras may help keep eyes healthy and prevent vision loss from age-related macular degeneration.
May Reduce Cancer Risk
Research shows the antioxidants lycopene and vitamin C are associated with lower risk of certain cancers, so the high levels in Cara Caras could be protective. However, more direct research is needed.
Overall, the enhanced antioxidant nutritional profile of Cara Caras give them potential benefits for heart health, vision, and fighting oxidative stress compared to regular oranges. However, keep in mind that regular oranges also supply great nutrition and health advantages.
Downsides of Cara Cara Oranges
While Cara Caras edge out regular oranges in certain nutrients, there are a few potential downsides to consider:
- Higher natural sugar content – The extra 3 grams of natural sugars per serving could be detrimental for diabetics or those limiting sugar intake.
- May interact with medications – Cara Caras contain moderate amounts of furocoumarins, which could potentially interact with certain medications like blood thinners or cholesterol and blood pressure medications. People taking medications should ask their doctor before consuming Cara Caras.
- Less juice yield – Cara Caras tend to be more fleshy and contain less juice than regular juicing oranges like Valencias.
- Shorter seasonal availability – Cara Caras have a more limited growing season from December through April.
- Can be pricier – Specialty fruit like Cara Caras usually costs a bit more than regular navel oranges.
While not necessarily harmful, these factors should be considered when deciding whether Cara Caras are worth the extra cost over regular oranges.
Beyond nutrition, taste plays a big role in choosing between regular oranges and Cara Caras:
- Flavor is very sweet and mild.
- The flesh is tender with a smooth, creamy texture.
- Notes of apricot and cherry flavors come through.
- Low acidity gives them a gentle, mellow citrus taste.
- Flavor can range from tangy and tart to sweet and mild depending on variety.
- Flesh tends to be more firm and fibrous in texture.
- Taste more traditional bright, citrusy orange flavor.
- Higher acidity contributes tanginess, especially in juicing oranges.
Which you prefer comes down to personal taste preferences. Cara Caras offer a mild, fruity sweetness compared to the classic tangy orange flavor of navels and Valencias.
You’ll typically find Cara Cara oranges costing $1-$3 more per bag or pound compared to conventional navel oranges. Here are some average prices:
- Cara Caras: $3-$5 per pound or $4-$8 per 3-pound bag
- Navel oranges: $2-$3 per pound or $3-$5 per 3-pound bag
Cara Caras are considered a specialty fruit while regular navels are mass produced, which accounts for the price difference. Seasonality also affects cost – Cara Cara prices tend to drop at the height of season in winter months.
Whether it’s worth splurging for Cara Caras depends on your budget and how much you value their unique taste and antioxidant profile. For some, paying $1 more per pound is worthwhile for the enhanced nutrition and flavor.
Cara Cara Orange Recipe Ideas
Cara Caras really shine when incorporated into recipes that allow their sweet, mild flavor to stand out:
Cara Cara Orange Salad
Toss wedges of Cara Caras with mixed greens, sliced fennel, toasted walnuts, and a lemon vinaigrette. The fruit perfectly balances the tart, crunchy salad.
Cara Cara Smoothie
Blend Cara Cara segments with banana, vanilla yogurt, and ice for a creamy, dreamy breakfast or snack.
Cara Cara Orange Chicken
Bake chicken breasts with slices of Cara Cara, honey, and spices for a succulent and elegant dish.
Cara Cara Citrus Cake
Mix Cara Cara slices into a dense, moist olive oil cake bathed in orange syrup. Top with whipped cream for pure decadence.
Grilled Cara Caras
Grill thick slices of Cara Caras just like you would pineapple. The slight char highlights their natural sweetness.
Cara Cara oranges edge out regular oranges in a few key nutrients thanks to their pink flesh packed with antioxidants. The combination of lycopene, vitamin C, vitamin A, and other beneficial plant compounds give Cara Caras an advantage for health benefits related to heart disease, inflammation, vision, and potentially cancer. Their unique sweet-tart flavor also makes them more versatile to cook and bake with than regular oranges.
However, regular navel and Valencia oranges still offer amazing nutritional value, including vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, folate, and antioxidants. Their classic orange flavor may be preferable for eating fresh or juicing. And you can usually find conventional oranges for a lower cost than the specialty Cara Caras.
Overall, choosing Cara Cara oranges comes down to your budget and preferences around flavor, texture, and nutrition. While they provide some extra benefits, regular oranges are still a healthy, nutritious choice full of vitamin C goodness. Mixing up both varieties gives you the best of both worlds.