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Mandarin Oranges and Tangerines: Kitchen Basics

Mandarin orange peeled1

Mandarin orange peeledMandarin oranges are mostly small, easy to peel, and perfect for snacking out of hand. You can choose a mandarin for a sweet treat or a mandarin for a sweet-tart treat.

Mandarins can be sectioned and added to fruit, green, chicken or seafood salads. They can be juiced to flavor sorbets, marinades, and dessert sauces, or zested to flavor cakes, muffins, stuffing, and rice dishes.

Mandarins have thin, loose skins with only delicate strands of pith attached to their flesh. They are sometimes called “slip-skin oranges” or “kid glove” fruit. Once peeled the mandarin’s segments separate easily in the fashion of the petals of a flower.

Mandarins make up the largest and most varied group of edible citrus. They are usually less acidic and smaller than oranges with a slightly flattened shape. Their skins can vary in color from greenish gold to deep orange-red. They can be seedless or full of seeds, and they can be sweet tasting or tart.

The mandarin’s ability to cross easily with other citrus and adapt to a wide range of climates has had a large influence on the variety of mandarins and their variations in size, color, and flavor.

It can take a scorecard to keep track of mandarin varieties. Perhaps the first task is to make the distinction between the mandarin orange and the tangerine. The terms “mandarin orange” and “tangerine” are often used interchangeably. Here is the difference: a tangerine is a mandarin orange but not all mandarin oranges are tangerines.

Tangerines. The word tangerine was coined in the United States to name mandarin oranges with very deep orange-red skins. In other parts of the world, the same deeply colored fruits continue to be called mandarins. These deep-colored mandarins were first imported to Florida in the nineteenth century from Tangier, the port in Morocco. They quickly took the name “tangerine”.

There are more than 200 mandarin orange varieties and cultivars. Mandarins have been cultivated and selected for so long–by both man and nature, in so many different parts of the world, that the original forms are lost. That can make classifying mandarins difficult.

Mandarin varieties are sometimes broken into three classifications—mandarin, tangerine, and Satsuma orange. Mandarins and tangerines—depending upon the cultivar–belong to one of two separate species, one called the common mandarin and the other called the Mediterranean mandarin. The Satsuma mandarin is a separate species, a mutation of the original mandarin orange. Extra large mandarins are often classed into a separate species known as king mandarins.

The name mandarin is taken from the title of counselors in the Chinese imperial courts who wore bright orange robes and headpieces with buttons that resemble the fruit.

The citrus called tangerines in Great Britain are mandarins from the Mediterranean region that are pale colored and mild in flavor.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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Mandarin orange in peel2

Mandarin Orange: Kitchen Basics