native to: southeastern China
in season: winter
Tangerines are the US term for what Europe calls mandarin oranges (Citrus reticulata, of the Rutaceae family). Mandarins were once imported to the US via North Africa and picked up the name from the city of Tangiers, the residents of which are also called Tangerines. However, when a modern store labels something as a “tangerine,” it is probably a Fairchild or Darby mandarin orange, having seeds and a slightly tougher peel. “Satsuma” is the Japanese word for mandarins, now associated with a seedless variety having a leathery skin. These are most often canned, since they’re tender and don’t ship well. Clementines, often marketed as “Cuties” or “Sweeties,” are sweet, nearly seedless, and the easiest to peel. Some sources say clementines are a cross between mandarins and regular oranges, while others just list them as a cultivar of mandarins.
Remember those arils the pomegranate discussion mentioned a couple of weeks ago? Well, tangerine sections are also arils. Tangerine seeds are safe to eat, but unpleasantly bitter.
Like oranges, tangerines are low in calories and of course have no fat or cholesterol. They have even more flavonoid anti-oxidants than oranges and provide plenty of vitamins A and, of course, C. They’re also a good source of fiber and provide calcium, potassium, magnesium, and other minerals. Research is also finding phyto-chemicals and other compounds that protect against cancer, arthritis, obesity, and heart disease in citrus fruits.
Pesticides are widely used on citrus crops, so you should wash conventionally-grown fruits before peeling to keep the gunk off your hands. Beyond that, it’s not a big concern if you’re only eating the insides, but stick to organic fruits if you’re planning to use the peel: candied peel, tangerine peel tea, zest….
label-style nutrition information for tangerines
a comparison of different varieties of mandarins
mandarins and other citrus fruits at Nutrition and You
oranges and tangerines compared at LiveStrong.com
The Fruit Pages
Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.