Say mandarin orange and you are describing a large and diverse group of citrus varieties and hybrids that vary from very sweet to tart and from egg-sized small to medium grapefruit-sized large.
The one thing that mandarin oranges have in common is that their peel or skin easily pulls away from their flesh and their segments are easily separated.
Mandarins—the majority of which are smaller and squatter than most oranges–have less acid than oranges, and generally contain more water and less sugar than oranges.
Mandarins vary in color from orange to deep, nearly reddish orange. Those with the deepest red-orange peels are often called tangerines.
The earliest ripening mandarin oranges and their hybrids are ready in early winter. The mandarin season extends from early winter into summer—with the harvest divided into early, midseason and late.
Here’s a roundup of the most notable mandarin orange varieties and their hybrids and when you will find them at the farm market:
Clementine or Algerian Tangerine. Juicy, sweet, mild to rich flavor, excellent taste. Medium-small to medium sized and usually seedless flesh. Rind is deep orange to orange-red, smooth and glossy. Peels easily. Ripens late fall into winter: December, January and February. Originated and grown in North Africa and grown extensively in California since 1914.
Dancy or Dancy Tangerine. Rich, spicy flavor. Dark orange-red, smooth, thin rind. Peels easily. Flesh is deep orange. Smaller than other mandarins and seedy. The traditional Christmas “tangerine.” Ripens fall into winter: December and January. Best when grown in desert regions. First planted in Florida in 1867.
Encore. Delicious sweet-tart taste. Juicy, sweet, rich and spicy flavor. Pulp is deep orange and seedy. Yellow-orange rind mottled with dark spots. Ripens spring into summer. The last mandarin to ripen: March, April and May.
Fremont. Rich, sweet fruit and seedy. Medium-size with bright orange rind. Ripens early, fall into winter.
Honey or Murcott. Wonderfully sweet tangerine flavor and juicy. Very small and seedy. Yellow-orange rind, peels poorly. Midseason maturing winter into spring.
Kara. Sweet-tart, sprightly, aromatic flavor with varying seediness. Large fruit to 2½ inches (6.5 cm) in diameter. Ripens winter into spring: March and April. Will be tart if grown near the coast.
Kinnow. Very sweet and fragrant with seedy fruit. Somewhat hard to peel. Midseason, ripens winter to early spring: January through April. Grown best in very hot regions.
Mediterranean or Willow Leaf. Sweet, flavorful, aromatic and juicy. Yellow-orange rind, smooth and glossy. A few seeds. Midseason, ripens in spring.
Pixie. Mild, sweet and seedless fruit. Medium-orange flesh with yellow-orange rind. Easy-to-peel. Ripens late. Grows well in intermediate and coastal areas.
Ponkan or Chinese Honey Mandarin. Of ancient origins in India or China. Very sweet and aromatic, somewhat dry. Flesh and rind are deep orange. Few seeds. Ripens early: December and January. Widely grown in Asia and Brazil. Ripens early.
Satsuma. Called Unshiu in Japan. Moderately sweet, sprightly flavor. Seedless with loose skin, peels easily. Medium-small to medium sized fruits. Rind and flesh are orange. Ripens very early: November and December. Ripens well in low summer heat regions. Cultivars include ‘Owari’, ‘Dobashi Beni’, ‘Okitsu Wase’, and ‘Kimbrough’.
Wilking. Rich flavor and juicy. Deep yellow-orange rind with rich yellow-orange flesh. Medium sized. Ripens in midseason: January-April. Grow well in cooler areas.
Mandarin Orange Hybrids:
There are several mandarin orange hybrids:
Tangelo. Hybrid between a mandarin and a grapefruit. There are two notable varieties: ‘Minneola’ is bright orange-red and has a distinctive neck. It has a rich, tart flavor tangerine flavor when picked late and some seeds. Early to midseason: December through February. ‘Orlando’ has small fruit with mild, sweet flavor and is seedy. Ripens early to midseason: November through January. A third tangelo, ‘Sampson’ has grapefruit like flavor. Ripens midseason to late: February through April.
Tangor. Hybrid between a mandarin and a sweet orange. Cultivars include ‘Murcott’ which is sweet and seedy and ripens in winter: January and February. This cultivar is marketed under the name “honey tangerine.” ‘Ortanique’ is sweet, juicy. Orange, slightly pebbled rind with a distinct neck. Some seeds. Ripens midseason: January to March. ‘Temple’ is rich and spicey sweet to tart. Orange to red-orange rind and seedy. Ripens midseason, winter to spring: January to April.
Ambersweet. Cross between a ‘Clementine’ mandarin and an ‘Orlando’ tangelo and a sweet orange. Juicy and seedy. Slightly pear shaped and pebbly. Easy to peel. Ripens fall into winter: October through December.
Fairchild. Cross between ‘Clementine’ mandarin and ‘Orlando’ tangelo. Rich flavored, juicy and sweet especially when very ripe. Orange flesh. Medium to medium-small and round. Red-orange rind that is somewhat difficult to peel. Ripens in winter.
Fallglo. Cross between a mandarin and the ‘Temple’ tangor. Juicy, tart and very seedy. Reddish-orange, thin, smooth rind which peels easily. Ripens early: October and November.
Gold Nugget. Cross between ‘Wilking’ and tangor. Rich flavor. Medium oblong to round shape with golden orange pebbly rind. Flesh is orange and seedless. Ripens mid to late season. Introduced in 1999.
Lee. Cross between a ‘Clementine’ and Orlando tangelo. Tender, juicy and sweet. Medium-size, round to oblong with yellow-orange rind that is smooth and thin. Seedy. Best flavor in hot regions. Ripens fall to winter: October through December.
Nova. Cross between ‘Clementine’ and ‘Orlando’. Juicy and very sweet. Medium-sized, orange, pebbly rind. Pulp is deep orange. Ripens fall into winter: November and December.
Page. Cross between ‘Clementine’ and ‘Minneola’ tangelo. Small, sweet and juicy with few seeds. Orange rind that can be tough to peel. Ripens fall into winter: November through January.
Robinson. Hybrid between ‘Clementine’ and ‘Orlando’. Mile to very sweet flavor and seedy. Yellow to yellow-orange skin that is smooth and glossy. Ripens in fall: October through December.
Sunburst. Cross between ‘Robinson’ and ‘Osceola’. Sweet complex flavor with an undertone of grapefruit. Large, sweet, red-orange fruit with smooth skin. Easy to peel. Some seeds. Ripens late fall: November and December.
Wekiwa. Also called ‘Lavender Gem’ or pink tangelo. Cross between a tangelo and a grapefruit. The size of a small grapefruit. Juicy, mild, sweet; the flesh can be purplish rose in hot climates. Ripens late fall into winter: December through February.
Sour-Acid Mandarin Hybrids:
Calamondin. Cross between mandarin and a kumquat. Very small, orange edible rind. Flesh is juicy and zesty tart with some seeds.
Rangpur. Also called Rangpur lime (but it’s not a lime). Less acid than a lemon. Used as a base for punches and mixed drinks. Peels like a mandarin.