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Why Clementines are Mandarins, but not all Mandarins are Clementines…

Clementines vs. Mandarins…

When it comes to Clementines vs. Mandarins, the Mandarin is the master orange of the family, and Clementines, tangerines, and satsumas all fall under this umbrella. Referred to as mandarins because they are thought to have originated in China, and as they passed through the trade route across Africa (Tangier in particular,) they picked up the moniker tangerine.  Clementines are a smaller, seedless variety cultivated by a French missionary in Algeria named Marie-Clement Rodier, who was able to slap his name on the cultivar. Seedless also implies that they must be reproduced with grafting rather than from seed.

Around the World

Around the world, clementines are enjoyed in different aspects of culture. Here in America, clementines can be found on the soccer field at half time as a healthy hydrating snack. Easy to peel and seedless, they have a great appeal for health-minded parents as a do-it-yourself snack for kids. In Italy, it is not uncommon to pass a bowl of clementines around the dinner table after dessert for some social digestif lingering. And if it’s this time of year, the toasty warm bag of chestnuts will follow. (Check out our video about chestnuts here).

And for Chinese New Year, it is customary to present your host with a pair of mandarins during the Chinese New Year. The thought process being that the Chinese word for mandarin sounds like wealth and good fortune. It is a symbolically thoughtful thing to do {read: don’t show up without it} when celebrating the New Year.

 

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Clementines are also referred to Christmas oranges, as they are available that time of the year. They also are a part of a Christmas stocking tradition.

Clementines vs. Mandarins…and Cuties and Halos and Pixies, oh my!

And what about all this? Well don’t get too wrapped up in the distinction between the first two. These names are trademark brand names, not varieties, from California growers Sun Pacific and Paramount, respectively.  More important than the varietal distinction of these, is their phenomenal marketing and branding efforts which has put this healthy and natural snack in plain view of shoppers with an eye towards making better choices at the grocery store, causing great category growth.

Ojai Pixie tangerines on the other hand are specific to the Ojai region of California, north of LA and south of Santa Maria, often considered the best growing area for the fruit. They are a late season mandarin carrying the season of availability across the finish line between March and April; in contrast to an early harvest variety like Satsuma.

Clementines lose their desirable seedless characteristic when they are cross-pollinated with other fruit. As one can imagine, growers are more protective than gruff fathers waiting on the front porch for their daughters to come home from the school dance. Since growing in isolation is essentially impossible, many times the trees are covered with a netting to prevent such unwanted advances from bees looking to do their business.

The skin and zest are also very useful in recipes for their oily and aromatic properties. And as another added health benefit, clementines contain small amounts of synephrine which is a natural decongestant.  This, in addition to their high levels of Vitamin C make them good little fighters against winter colds. Not for their decongestant properties, but because they are delicious, I used a couple of clementines from Florida in my cranberry relish this Thanksgiving. I love buying local when I can and I’m sure it made my relish a bit better.

 

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Have you ever seen Clementines growing on a tree? The trees are loaded with them!

 

Why one grower is not too hung up on names…

This sentiment is shared by Adam Roe of Noble Produce. “If you want to continue to see citrus from Florida, pay attention to where it comes from when you buy it! Eat local!” says Adam. FreshPoint South Florida is proud business partners with Noble Produce of Winter Haven. Adam Roe is a fourth generation grower and is very proud of two cultivars that his family has invested 30 years in developing: “Aroema” and “Roe”. And he doesn’t put too fine a point on it on calling them clementines or mandarins. Mostly he just refers to them as seedless easy peels.

Citrus greening has set the clementine industry back as it has for all of Florida citrus. But Adam Roe feels encouraged in suggesting that Florida has all but leveled out with regards to the disease, and may even be on the rebound. In addition to clementines, FreshPoint also sources pomelos, blueberries, and soon finger limes from Noble.

 


Clementines are in season domestically from November to April, rotating through varietals during those months. During other times of the year, sourcing shifts to South America, Spain and North Africa, making them available more or less all year.

Content provided by Chef Francy Deskin, the Specialties Coordinator for FreshPoint South Florida. She has spent 20+ years in kitchens, including as an Executive Chef, and she loves all things food. Follow FreshPoint South Florida on Facebook and Instagram.

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