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”:

Want to be notified when we post more articles? Sign up for our mailing list!

© 1996-2013 Vegetable Kingdom Inc., PO Box 530456, St. Petersburg, FL 33747 All rights reserved.
Florida Fruit Shippers® is a registered trademark of Vegetable Kingdom Inc.