The tangerine is a small, thin-skinned variety of orange belonging to the mandarin orange species of the family Rutaceae. Tangerine and mandarin is often used interchangeably, however a tangerine is actually a sub-species of the mandarin orange.
The tree is smaller than other orange trees, with slender twigs and lance-shaped leaves. The fruit is slightly flattened at either end, with loose, deep, reddish-orange peel and easily separated segments. Tangerines have been found as small as a ruby, to larger than an average orange though, the fruit is usually smaller than most oranges. The skin of some varieties will peel off more easily. The taste is often sweeter than that of an orange. The number of seeds in each segment (carpel) varies by variety.
Tangerines are most likely native to Southeast Asia and have been cultivated for over 3,000 years in China and Japan. They were spread westward along trade routes as far as the Mediterranean. The name tangerine actually refers to Tangier, Morocco, the port through which they were first shipped to Europe from in the nineteenth century.
There are different types including:
- Honey tangerines, which were originally called Murcotts
- Variants of oranges that are well-known and often thought to be tangerines are Clementine’s (seedless) and Satsuma.
Good quality tangerines have loose-fitting skins so they will feel soft and puffy compared to oranges. They should also be heavy for their size; otherwise, they might be pithy and dry. Make sure to choose fruits with glossy, deep orange skins, but don’t worry about small green patches near the stems. The best tangerines also have a strong sweet smell. Store in the refrigerator for up to 7 – 14 days.
Peak tangerine season is short, lasting from November to January in the Northern Hemisphere.
Tangerines are most often peeled and eaten fresh. The fruit can also be used in salads, desserts and main dishes. Fresh tangerine juice and frozen juice concentrate are commonly available in the United States. Oil extracted from the skin of the tangerine is an important in several flavorings and liqueurs.
Tangerines are a good source of vitamin C, half the daily requirement. They are also a good source of folate and beta-carotene. They also contain some potassium, magnesium and vitamins B1, B2 & B3.
Two other tangerine type fruits worth mentioning are the Tangelo and Temple. The tangelo is a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit or pomelo (a large citrus fruit that is related to the grapefruit). The name is a combination of tangerine and pomelo. Tangelos look like large oranges. Although they are closer to tangerines than to grapefruits in flavor, they have a taste all their own.
The Temple which is also called a Royal mandarin is a tangor, a cross between a tangerine and an orange. Temples resemble overgrown tangerines and have many seeds. They are very sweet and juicy, and their flavor is similar to that of an orange.