It may not be the holidays anymore, but it's still mandarin season. Mandarin oranges, or tangerines had their start in India and China at least 3,000 years ago. They are called "mandarin" oranges after China. In the 16th century, the satsuma, which is the Japanese version, made its appearance. And in the 19th century we get the Mediterranean cousin, which is where the name "tangerine" comes from (Tangiers, Morocco).
Mandarins are a loose-peeled orange variety that can be sweet or tart, seeded or seedless, small or large. They are smaller and flatter than an orange and their peel is often easier to get off. They are extremely juicy with a fragrant aroma that is both fruity and a little herbal. Satsumas are the easiest to eat, having a peel that rips right off and being seedless.
Mandarins are a winter fruit and different varieties come into season throughout the winter and spring, generally from November to June. Now in season are Page and Gold Nugget varieties. The Page is a cross between a clementine and a tangelo. It's harder to peel than a satsuma and may have seeds, but has an intense fruit flavor. The Gold Nugget mandarin was developed years ago but only recently released by the University of California. It's seedless and has a good flavor. It's season lasts until July, which brings us to now half the year for enjoying little tiny yummy oranges.
Other varieties are:
- Clementine: Thin-skinned, tangy sweet and seedless. Produced in Spain and North Africa and found in specialty produce markets.
- Dancy: Similar to clementines but with lots of seeds.
- Satsuma: Japanese and almost all seedless. Most canned mandarins are satsumas.
- Tangerine: The most common mandarin in the U.S. Thick skinned and sweet.
On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee
Food Lover's Companion, Sharon Tyler Herbst
"Fleeting first tastes of spring," Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2007
Garden Compass, Jan./Feb. 2003