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All about oranges


As I struggled to remove the peel from a tangerine over the weekend, I found myself wondering: Why would anyone work this hard to eat a tangerine when clementines are just as tasty and so much easier to peel?

When I was a kid, I mainly remember eating tangerines from cans, floating in syrup. I think they were sometimes called  mandarins. 

Since they all look alike, is there a difference? According to the website Wikipedia, all the tasty and diminutive orange-fleshed fruits are mandarins (satsumas, clementines and tangerines are the ones we see most often in stores). Don’t call them mandarin oranges, though, because mandarins are actually not oranges. In fact, according to an article on citrus fruit published by the University of California at Davis Cooperative Extension, the citrus fruits that we know as oranges are believed to be a cross between a pummelo and a mandarin.

The different types of mandarin are distinguished by how well they cope with weather, how dense (and difficult/easy) their skin is to peel, whether or not they have seeds, and what their leaves look like.

The two most common types on grocery store shelves, apparently, are satsumas and clementines (which are supposed to be seedless, although that never seems to be the case). Satsumas are supposed to be the easiest to peel; clementines come in a close second. 

Tangerines, I can tell you from personal experience, probably rank quite a bit lower (107 perhaps). Perhaps that’s why they fell out of favor with consumers. Recently there has been a nostalgic resurgence of interest in them. They’re showing up at grocery stores and getting written up in cooking articles (try roasting quartered tangerines with their peels on along with a chicken or short ribs, for example). 

There’s no reason to avoid tangerines. But outside their novelty, there isn’t actually much reason to throw over the more convenient satsumas and clementines in their favor.

Nutritionally, they are all of course low in calories, high in fiber. They don’t provide a ton of vitamins or minerals, except of course for vitamin C, which is believed to be one of the most effective cancer-fighting antioxidants. Vitamin C is also believed to help boost your immune system and keep winter colds at bay.

If you’ve ever looked at a nutrition label or nutrition chart, you know that they’re not very black and white bits of intelligence. But, broadly, there does seem to be a difference in the amount of vitamin C you get from the different orange and mandarin varieties.

One medium tangerine, weighing 109 grams, provides 45 percent of your recommended daily dose of vitamin C (according to Sunkist).

One satsuma mandarin weighing 109 grams provides 110 percent of your recommended daily dose of vitamin C (also according to Sunkist).

One normal orange, weighing 154 grams, provides 130 percent of your daily dose (according to Sunkist).

Clementines, which are the smallest of the mandarins, are listed in pairs. Two clementines, weighing a combined 168 grams, provide 290 percent of your daily dose of C (that’s according to several websites, including one for a company that distributes a variety called the Cutie Clementine).

Even if you just ate one clementine, in other words,  you’d still be getting 145 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. 

This column normally provides a recipe to go along with the edibles we discuss. The season for clementines and other mandarins is so short, however, that it seems silly to try and find new and different ways to eat and prepare them. Just peel ’em, eat ’em and enjoy.

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