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Mandarins, Tangerines & Clementines

The term “mandarin” refers to Citrus reticulate, sometimes called “kid-glove oranges,” and is characterized by deep orange skin with easy peeling and separation of sections. The fruit originated in China, hence its name.

Tangerines, a type of mandarin, originated in the 1800s and refer to sweet mandarins that were shipped from the Port of Tangiers, Morocco.

The wide use of the term ‘tangerine’ for ‘mandarin’ has led to some confusion, though not nearly as much as the very popular easy-peel Clementine.

Clementines are a type of mandarin orange with a murky past: one scholar believed the varietal originated in North Africa, but another convinced most modern botanists the petite oranges probably came from the Canton region of China. The fruit was brought to Florida in the early 1900s and to California a few years later.

Shaped like slightly flattened spheres with thin, leathery skin, mandarin rinds go from relatively smooth to bumpy as the fruit matures and separates from the interior flesh, giving them their easy-peel reputation.

Another type of mandarin, the satsuma, originated in Japan. Introduced to Florida in the 1870s, saplings were planted along the Gulf Coast in the early 1900s.

Subsequent freezes limited the states that could successfully produce the fruit, with California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona taking the lead. California accounts for more than three-quarters of U.S. supply; globally, China is the leading producer of mandarins and/or tangerines.

Seasonal Availability Chart

Types & Varieties
Fruit falls into three categories or classes: mandarins, tangerines, and satsumas—though the differences have more to do with origin and type of tree than the fruit.

The most popular varieties are Sumo, Satsuma, Clementine, Dancy, Honey, Minneola Tangelo, Pixie, and Sunburst. Other varieties include Emperor, Golden Nugget, Kara, Le-dar, Oneco, Owari, Ponkan, Robinson, Sugar Belle, Super Nova, and Wase.

Roughly 70 percent of U.S. mandarins and tangerines are destined for the fresh market. The remaining 30 percent are processed for juice, canned, or for sweetening and coloring additives to orange or grapefruit juice.

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