Fruit of the Month: Mandarin Orange!

As you take your last bite of persimmons and lament the end of another delicious fall season, don’t forget that December marks the beginning of the winter citrus season!  As the fruit begins to ripen, Food Forward would like to welcome the first citrus of the season, the Mandarin Orange, as our Fruit of the Month!

Background and history

The mandarin orange refers to the largest and most diverse type of citrus.  Mandarin oranges range in size and sweetness, and can have many or no seeds.  However, all mandarin oranges are known for their distinctive loose skin and inner segments that make them easy to peel and a favorite to eat out of hand.

There is a lot of confusion about what constitutes a mandarin.  The terms “mandarin orange” and “tangerine” are often used interchangeably in the United States.  Historically, mandarins imported into Tangier were referred to as tangerines, and the fruit was typically a deep orange color.  To clear up any confusion, a tangerine is always a mandarin orange, but not all mandarin oranges are tangerines.

The mandarin orange is native to the tropical and sup-tropical regions of Southeastern Asia, including Southern China and the Philippines.  Mandarins were not exported out of Asia until the 19th century.  It was only then when the fruit was exported did it get the name “mandarin,” referring to the bright orange robes worn by the public officials of the ancient Chinese court.  In 1805, two varieties of mandarins were exported to England.  From there, they spread to the Mediterranean region and into Italy.  The Italian Consul in New Orleans imported the Mandarin orange from Italy in 1850.  Once the Mandarin orange was imported in the United States, they spread quickly to Florida and California.  In 1882, six fruits of the ‘Kin’ mandarin were sent from Saigon to a Dr. Magee at the Citrus Research Center at UC Riverside.  Since then, UC Riverside has been instrumental in the breeding, spreading, and researching of mandarin varieties.

For more information visit:

Distinguishing between the different varieties

Although there is much dispute over the different varieties and classification of the mandarin, the University of Riverside has defined three different mandarin cultivars: the Common Mandarin, the Satsuma Mandarin, and the Mandarin Hybrids (tangelos and tangors).  The table below highlights the most common varieties of each cultivar.

For a complete list of mandarin varieties and their descriptions visit:

Care and Maintenance


The Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, CA ( provides five easy steps for planting, caring, and maintaining your citrus trees:

  1. Plant in a warm, sunny location
  2. Dig a wide hole, loosening the soil but not amending it
  3. Plant with the tree set on a slight rise
  4. Make a watering basin around the tree so you can soak it thoroughly and infrequently
  5. Fertilize every month or each season, adjust pH with soil sulphur, and correct micro-nutrient deficiencies as needed

Harvesting Mandarins


For most citrus, fruits can be left on the tree without becoming overripe and do not continue to ripen after being picked.  With mandarins, however, the fruit needs to be harvested as soon as they turn orange, or the flavor will deteriorate.  Rain is also a big factor when determining when to harvest.  The fruit spoils quickly after the rain, so it is best to harvest before the rainy season.

Once the fruits are ripe, the proper harvesting techniques include clipping or carefully twisting and and pulling the fruit from the tree.  This is to ensure that the button remains intact at the top of the fruit.  If a branch is left on the fruit, it should be cut off close to the fruit in order to avoid puncturing the delicate skin of other fruits in storage and transportation.

For more information visit:

Mandarins and Chinese New Year

Mandarins are an important fruit used during the Chinese New Year.  The mandarin orange symbolizes good fortune and long life in China because they are sweet and abundant.  Due to its bright orange color, it is used in the ceremony to symbolize the sun and to represent the fresh start of a new year.  During the two-week celebration, mandarins are given as gifts or displayed as decoration.

Mandarin Madness

Join Food Forward for Mandarin Madness, a four month long mandarin harvest in Goleta, CA.  There are six picks scheduled from now until February at a beautiful estate overlooking the ocean.  Make a day trip out of it, and spend the morning picking and the afternoon visiting the nearby Santa Barbara vineyards and beaches!

Visit our events page for more details:

This entry was posted in Produce of the Month. Bookmark the permalink.

4 thoughts on “Fruit of the Month: Mandarin Orange!”


  2. Pingback: Las 16 mejores plantas comestibles y saludables para cultivar indoor!! | Recalculando | El Cambio es posible

  3. Mary says:

    I love mandarins!!!

  4. anavie ruiz says:

    it so delicious fruit 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *