Monday, January 13, 2020

What’s the Difference Between an Orange and a Mandarin Orange?

When you think of a mandarin orange, what comes to mind? Do you think of those little seedless fruit that you get for your kids’ lunch? Maybe you imagine those oranges that come in a can and get mixed with fruit and whipped cream or put on green salads.

As usual when it comes to the citrus “family tree,” though, the truth is more complicated!
The mandarin orange is indeed a little, squat fruit, smaller than the big round eating oranges like the Navel. The taste of a mandarin is extra sweet, and you won’t find much white pith when you peel their thin skin. And yes, some types of mandarin have long been canned, mainly because their small size, sweet taste, and lack of pith makes that easy and marketable.

Mandarins Might Not Be What You Think

But the mandarin isn’t a hybrid or a recently developed specialty citrus. In fact, instead of asking, “What is a mandarin orange?”, it might actually be more accurate to ask—what isn’t (at least in part) a mandarin?

In fact, while it may be surprising to learn, we can probably think of the mandarin, which originates in Asia, as the mother of almost all the citrus we know and love today. They’re believed to have originated in an area that includes Japan, Vietnam, and China, and their ancestors can still be found growing wild there in the mountains. The name “mandarin” is thought to be related to the yellow or orange cloaks worn by “mandarins,” the government officials of China when the fruit began to be exported.

Which Fruits Are and Aren't Mandarins?

Now, how does this relate to the citrus we eat and buy today? Well...

1. These fruits are definitely mandarin oranges:

--Tangerines, including the Dancy, Sunburst, and Murcott (honey) tangerines

While many people use the terms “mandarin” and “tangerine” interchangeably, it is more accurate to say that a tangerine is a type of mandarin. (Although, just to increase the confusion, a lot of fruits get referred to as tangerines, including things that really aren’t them!) Tangerines have rougher skin and are a bit larger and slightly tarter than some other types of mandarin.

2. These fruits are commonly called mandarins, and closely related to the “original” mandarins:


Clementines are very closely related to the original mandarins and usually quite small. You can know a clementine by its very smooth, shiny rind.

3. These fruit are also descended from mandarins, though more distantly (derived from crosses with mandarins and other citrus):

--Tangelos, like the Honeybell
--All sweet oranges, like navels, Temples, and juicing oranges
--Even lemons and limes!

Yep, that’s right! All of these very popular and well-known fruits have mandarin parentage.

Have we convinced you of the importance of the mandarin yet?

A New Favorite Mandarin

Here at Florida Fruit, of course, we sell a lot of fruit with mandarin parentage. One of the most “mandarin-y” (and one you’ll see us actually referring to as a mandarin) is our new Sol Zest mandarin. These fruit are newly available in Florida, and you won’t yet see them in stores. We think their bright, sweet flavor, small size, seedlessness, and ease of peeling makes them an incredibly easy fruit to love.

Mandarins have long been linked to good luck and the new year in Asian culture. It’s interesting to note that this mythology may be part of why oranges also are associated with Christmas celebrations in Christianity. There’s something about the bright, juicy taste of citrus in winter that’s awfully hard to resist, as we at Florida Fruit Shippers definitely know!

If you enjoy the uniquely sweet tang of mandarin oranges, here are a few recipes that celebrate this ancestral and delicious “mother of citrus”:

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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Do Some Citrus Growers Dye Their Fruit?

Have you ever been to the grocery store and seen oranges on display that are so incredibly bright orange that they almost looked fake? I have. Sometimes they’re also very shiny, or have skins that seem very thick and leathery.

They certainly are beautiful, but maybe you felt a bit puzzled by these fruit. Did it almost seem like they were “too good to be true,” or might be intended more to look at than to eat?

Very perfect
Dyeing to Look Pretty

If you were suspicious that something not so natural could be involved here, you could be right. Though few people realize it, some growers use artificial dye on the outside of their oranges.
The dye used, FD&C red #2, can be found in various foods we buy at the supermarket and is not thought to be harmful. You should see (by law) an indication somewhere on the package that dyeing has occurred.

However, many of us wouldn’t expect to find synthetic dyes in fresh fruit like oranges. And a lot of people prefer to avoid artificial dyes due to allergies or sensitivities. That’s why, at Florida Fruit Shippers, we never sell fruit that has been dyed.

Why Dye?
So, why do some growers choose to dye their citrus? It’s actually pretty simple. As we have explained elsewhere on this blog, oranges don’t have to be fully orange (or even orange at all!) to be ripe. The fruit turns color due to cool temperatures, not as an indicator of ripeness.
Green but fully ripe oranges from Brazil

Consumers, of course, may not know this! If they see green or greenish citrus at market, they could pass it by. After all, we do tend to “eat” with our eyes. On the whole, people choose produce that is the most intensely colored, even if that has been done artificially. And large commercial growers selling to grocery stores don’t have the luxury of hand selecting each piece of fruit, like we do here at FFS.

(Did you know that artificial food dyes are illegal in many countries? It’s true! Another interesting fact is that it is possible to dye fabric with orange peels. Yes, we mean the kind that haven’t been given an artificial color-boost! Typically the fruit is bright enough to leave its “mark” behind in natural cloth.)

The Real Way to Judge Ripeness
So, since color may not be a reliable indicator, how growers know whether fruit is ripe? We have lots of ways! In general, as fruit specialists, we have a good idea when the fruit “should be” ready for harvest. But because we want to make sure it’s at its peak before we pick, we use some special equipment to check the balance of acidity and sugar levels in the fruit. The process is pretty scientific, though naturally, we also rely on our own judgement and expertise as well.

Now, we all love to open a box and see a beautiful array of gorgeously orange fruit. It’s definitely part of the gift fruit experience, and we work hard to ensure that your fruit is as attractive as possible. But we always believe that superior taste and your satisfaction come first. That’s why Florida Fruit Shippers will never dye our citrus. Your experience is pure Florida….no artificial ingredients.
Naturally beautiful oranges in the Florida Fruit Shippers groves

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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

How to Make Your Own Orange Soda at Home

Did you love to drink orange soda when you were a little kid? My younger child adores this flavor. However, as we get older, many of us tend to lose our taste for the commercial version of this drink.

If you still like the idea of a bubbly citrus beverage, but don’t miss the artificial colors and syrupy taste, you’re in luck. It’s super-easy to DIY a more sophisticated, “adult” orange soda at home.

To make your own orange soda, all you’ll need is oranges, sugar, and unflavored seltzer. You can also get crazy and make a fancy orange cream soda with half and half or heavy cream. The steps are simple.


4 oranges of any kind
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Seltzer as needed for the amount of “sodas” desired

  1. Thoroughly zest the oranges. I really like my microplane zester because the zest comes out so easily, but the zester on a box grater will work as well. Be careful not to grate into the white pith, which is bitter.
    Zesting the oranges using a microplaner
  2. Place zest into a medium saucepan.
  3. Juice your zested oranges into a measuring cup. Pour ½ cup of the resulting juice (no seeds, please!) into the saucepan. (You’ll probably have more orange juice than this. Feel free to drink it!)
    Zest, juice, sugar and water on the stove
  4. Add 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to the pot. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Strain the mixture, pour into a jar or container, and allow it to cool. You’ve just created some delicious orange syrup!
    Finished syrup
  6. To make your orange soda, simply mix syrup with seltzer at about a 1:3 ratio (so, for instance, 1/3 cup syrup to 1 cup seltzer) and serve over ice.
Delicious DIY orange soda

Want to really "do it up" and make your own orange cream soda? Mix as above, but before adding ice, slowly pour in about 1-2 tbsp light or heavy cream. If desired, top with whipped cream. Fancy!

Your syrup should last in the fridge for at least a month or two, but you probably won't have it around that long. It's also delicious used in mixed drinks. Try adding some Italian Campari for a low-alcohol aperitif. You can also use this syrup for soaking homemade cakes, or even on pancakes or ice cream.

You can make other citrus sodas the same way, though you'll want to increase the sugar for lime, grapefruit, or lemon.  It would also be fun to try some simple variations on this syrup--orange mint, orange cardamon, orange vanilla, or orange cinnamon, for example. Include these flavorings in the simmering step with the zest and strain them out before bottling.

Enjoy your easy, delicious homemade orange soda and other treats.

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Friday, November 29, 2019

What's a Tiki Drink....and Why do Tiki Lovers Love White Grapefruit?

I was recently lucky enough to enjoy a relaxing getaway to beautiful Jupiter Island, FL. One night, we stopped in at the Square Grouper, a legendary tiki/beach bar. It sits by the water, serves fabulous fruity drinks under giant palm trees, and is pretty much everything you’d ever wanted from a tropical Florida getaway.

I’m normally more of a beer and wine drinker. But that night, I ordered a fruity, citrus-based tiki-style cocktail. When in Rome, do as the Romans do—and when at a Florida tiki bar, order tiki drinks!

What’s a Tiki Bar?

“Thatch Tiki Bar”  (c) 2008 ryan harvey, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Tiki bars (which are not the same as beach bars) never really went out of style in Florida. But if you live in the rest of the country, you may not know what this quirky tradition is all about. 

Tiki has many elements, but it typically features tropical plants and gardens, a “woodsy,” yet colorful look, tiki (Polynesian humanoid) carvings, tropical-style music (sometimes with live performers or a Polynesian theme), and of course, very elaborate tiki cocktails.

In truth, "tiki" isn’t fully authentic to any one country. While it has elements of Polynesian culture, it’s also kind of a romanticized American invention. The two (American) bars that started it all were Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s. Both these classic tiki bars eventually became large chains that spread all over the world.

Tiki Cocktails

So, what makes a cocktail “tiki”? Usually there are lots of ingredients, plenty of rum, spiced syrups, and tropical juices and fruits. Tiki drinks also almost always use citrus juices, like orange, lime, lemon, and grapefruit. They’re often served in fancy “tiki” mugs and include fun garnishes, like little umbrellas or flowers. Some drinks are big enough to share.

Popular Tiki Drinks

While the list of tiki drinks goes on and on, here are a few that are especially popular. Recipes are often “secret,” so opinions differ on what exactly to include. However, the main elements usually stay the same.

The Rum Runner has quite a long list of ingredients, including (of course) rum, orange juice, lime juice, pineapple juice, grenadine, banana liqueur and blackberry liqueur.

The Navy Grog plays to the tradition of “drinking citrus in the navy to prevent scurvy.” It always includes rum, lime juice, and white grapefruit juice.

The Scorpion is a strong drink that includes gin, rum, brandy, wine, orange juice, lemon juice, and orgeat, an almond syrup.

The Zombie may feature rum, white grapefruit juice, cinnamon, lime juice, lemon juice, orange curacao, grenadine, falernum, and/or bitters. 

The Mai Tai calls for rum, lime juice, almond syrup, and mint.

The Magic of White Grapefruit

 Authentic tiki recipes typically date back to the 1950s or even earlier-- before today's very sweet pink and red grapefruit were introduced. What this means is that tiki drink recipes were written to match the tarter, fuller, brighter flavor profile of white grapefruit.  It's just the perfect choice for these classic recipes, and goes especially well with warm spices, like nutmeg and cinnamon.

Yet white grapefruit can be hard to find these days. So lovers of authentic tiki cocktails are often a little frustrated in their quest to to buy white grapefruit for tiki drinks. In fact, many web posts on tiki drink forums feature tiki lovers wondering where to find white grapefruit. We’re happy to help here at Florida Fruit!

Florida Tiki

Want to enjoy some tiki culture yourself? A search for tiki bars in Florida yields hundreds of enticing options, from Jacksonville to (of course) the Keys. If you live in or visit the state and have never visited one of these tropical getaways, you owe it to yourself to check one out. Choose one by the water, and go at sunset. As the palm fronds wave overhead and you enjoy a delicious beverage, alcoholic or not, you’ll likely enjoy some feelings of well-being and relaxation…perhaps even a slight sense of time travel. 

Of course, if you can’t get to a tiki bar, that’s okay! Pick up some of these ingredients and enjoy concocting one of these delicious beverages at home.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Citrus Myths and Facts

Oranges and other citrus fruit are so beautiful and delicious, it’s no wonder they’ve traveled the globe and become popular just about everywhere. As we’ve seen elsewhere on this blog, citrus is meaningful in religion and in art, and it is included in delicious dishes in cuisines worldwide. After all, we’ve been enjoying oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and other citrus since the 1500s! 

With all these uses, and such a long history, it’s no wonder that some myths have “grown up” around oranges and citrus over time. You might even believe a few yourself. Today, we’ll test your knowledge of citrus truths and myths. How many will surprise you?

Myth or fact: You can tell whether an orange is ripe by how orange it is.


Myth. The orange color of…oranges (and other citrus) is actually caused by cool temperatures, not by fruit becoming ripe. In fact, in warmer areas, citrus may become fully mature without turning orange at all!

Myth or fact: Grapefruit is better for you than other citrus.


Myth. Grapefruits do have this reputation, but they probably aren't better for you than other citrus. Though they have a few less calories, the difference really isn’t significant. They have a bit less vitamin C than other citrus, though they pack more vitamin A. Enjoy the citrus you prefer!

Myth or fact: Oranges are native to Florida.


Myth! As much as we Floridians might like to claim oranges as our own, they are believed to have originated in Asia (though, honestly, nobody is quite sure about this). Citrus was first brought to Florida by Spaniards in the 1500s, and, well, the rest is history.

Myth or fact: Citrus fights colds.


Mixture. Science tells us that vitamin C may be slightly helpful in fighting colds or decreasing their length a bit. The effect isn’t dramatic, but upping your citrus consumption can’t hurt!

Myth or fact: British sailors are called “limeys” because of all the limes they ate.


Fact. I didn’t know this until I researched the long and strange history of scurvy, otherwise known as vitamin C deficiency. Today, vitamin C deficiency is fortunately very rare (thanks to our relatively healthy diets). But back in the bad old days, millions of sailors died due to the very restricted diets they ate at sea. When the “cure” was finally discovered, bottled lime juice was kept on board to head off the illness. Hence, “limeys.”

Myth or fact: Citrus might help you live longer.


Fact!  Scientists have found that people who regularly include citrus like oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines in their diet are less likely to get cancer. This may be because of the vitamin C. Or it could be due to other compounds found in citrus, such as antioxidants.

Myth or fact: Grapefruit helps you lose weight.


Mixture. The so-called grapefruit diet dates back to the 1930s. Followers are supposed to eat half a grapefruit and/or drink a glass of grapefruit juice with every meal. Meanwhile, fat will “melt away.”

Scientists have yet to find any magical “fat burning” ingredient in these delicious citrus fruits. However, in a 12-week study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, people who ate grapefruit or drank grapefruit juice several times a day did lose an average of about 3 pounds, with some participants losing much more. It’s possible that grapefruit’s high water and fiber content may make people feel full, causing them to eat less at meals.

Myth or fact: The “navel” on a navel orange is another baby orange.


Fact! The sweet navel orange that we all enjoy has a tiny underdeveloped “twin” orange at the end of each fruit. That’s not on purpose; it’s just the way the variety, a spontaneous mutation, appeared in the wild. Because the navel is seedless, it has to be propagated through grafting.

We hope you learned something from our citrus facts and myths. There’s always something new to find out about these amazing fruits. Happy snacking!

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Why Oranges at Half Time?

Fweet! The whistle blows, the hot and tired soccer players come off the field, and a coach or parent hands them out: juicy, refreshing halftime orange slices. Ah! That’s better.

If you have a child who plays soccer, or if you grew up playing soccer yourself, you’ve probably seen this halftime orange snack many times. But have you ever asked yourself where the tradition comes from?

It seems that orange-eating at soccer games actually got its start in England. There, the tradition of eating oranges at the half-time mark during a game of “footy” goes back to at least the 1950s. In fact, when the Queen of England herself hosted a soccer game in her back garden in 2013, footmen in long tailcoats offered orange slices on silver trays. We bet you’ve never experienced that!

Eventually, as soccer became more popular in the U.S., the practice spread. But what makes sliced oranges such a great soccer snack?

Oranges are hydrating

It’s really easy to get dehydrated when you’re sprinting around chasing that ball! Fortunately, oranges are 87% water, so those juicy-sweet sections help replenish some of what gets lost when we exercise.

Oranges are convenient and fast to eat

A seedless, juicy “orange smile” is super quick to grab and disappears just as fast. Check out this great and easy way to slice oranges for halftimeNavels are a perfect choice.

Oranges are high in carbohydrates, but not in calories

Oranges contain natural carbs that give energy, but they’re low-calorie and won’t weight players down and make it hard to run around.

Oranges don’t spike and crash players’ blood sugar

Oranges may taste sweet, but they have a low glycemic index of 40. This means that they won’t cause your blood sugar to spike up suddenly and then bottom out, like processed sugary treats. Instead, they’ll deliver energy gradually and evenly…perfect for sports.

Keep the Healthy Half Time Going!

Juicy sliced oranges from Florida Fruit Shippers

Unfortunately, as many parents of athletes know, the healthy choice of oranges isn’t always what we see on the fields anymore. Too often, chips, crackers, and even candy bars, cookies, and donuts are showing up on the sidelines instead.

Of course, kids gobble these up, but remember: it’s easy to take in a lot of calories when we eat snacks like these after exercise. Also, while high-sugar snacks are okay in moderation, they shouldn’t be a common thing for anybody.

By the way, don't forget that along with those oranges, it’s best to stick to water to drink. Marketers may push sports drinks, but they’re usually not needed. Experts agree that unless kids are playing in very high heat or working out for a really long time,  sugary drinks are unnecessary.

Kids really love sliced fruit. Research shows that the simple act of cutting fruit up makes kids much, much more likely to eat it! On a hot day, when you’ve just been out there giving your all, a plate of bright, juicy oranges is the perfect choice.

“Orange” you glad you brought the oranges?

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Are Oranges High in Sugar?

A naturally sweet slice of orange
Sometimes, the moment is right for an elaborately prepared, rich meal. At others, what hits the spot is a hot, salty snack, or a sweet, luscious dessert.

But, really, is there anything more purely, naturally delicious than fresh fruit at its absolute peak? We’re not talking about some anemic, grocery-store fruit, but a piece of juicy, prime fruit, like our perfect Tangerines. Not only is it delectable, but we also know that we’re eating something that’s healthy for us.

But have you run into anyone lately who is trying a special diet that restricts carbs, or is even limiting fruit? Perhaps you’ve wondered about the sugar or carb content of oranges and other citrus fruit, or have been puzzled about the difference between fructose in fruit and as an added ingredient.

Let’s answer these questions.

What kind of sugar is in oranges?

The sugar in oranges (and other fruits) is fructose, a natural fruit sugar. This is not the same as processed, refined sugar that is added to foods like cookies, soda, and so on. Fructose is a natural part of the fruit.

Is fructose in fruit bad for you?

Unprocessed fructose that occurs naturally in whole foods, like fruit, is very different from added fructose in processed forms, like high-fructose corn syrup. It is just fine for us to eat! Nutritionists have no concerns about natural fructose we eat in fresh, whole, nutritious fruit.

Are oranges high in sugar? What about tangerines and grapefruit?

Oranges are low- to medium-sugar fruits.

  • One medium-sized orange contains about 12 grams of sugar and 15 grams of carbs.
  • One medium-sized tangerine contains about 9 grams of sugar and 11 grams of carbs.
  • Half a grapefruit contains about 9 grams of sugar and 10 grams of carbs.

What is the glycemic index of oranges?

Oranges have a low glycemic index of 40. This means that eating oranges does not cause your blood sugar to shoot up and then crash. Although oranges and other citrus taste sweet, they contain plenty of healthful fiber as well. Their natural sweetness takes a while to absorb, so we don’t get a sugar rush from eating them.

Because oranges have a low GI, they are a great choice for diabetics!

What are some other low-sugar fruits?

Berries, melon, and peaches are also lower in sugar, while apples, grapes, mangoes, figs and pineapple are somewhat higher.

But remember! None of this should be a concern unless you are diabetic, counting carbs, or on a special diet. In any case, most of these diets will allow fruit…especially lower-sugar ones like oranges.

Delicious and nutritious citrus salad
Fruits like oranges are really, really good for us in so many ways. Fruit contains fiber, vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, all of which promote good health and may prevent chronic illness and cancer. In particular, citrus is high in folate and potassium, making it a great choice for families.

Enjoy the natural sweetness of oranges without worries about sugar.

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