What’s the Difference between Tangerines, Clementines, and Mandarins?

Clementines

photo: wikimedia commons

A mandarin orange is a slightly smaller relative of the standard orange. The tangerine and clementine are varietals of the mandarin, much in the same way gala and fuji are apple varietals.

Mandarins originated in China, hence the name. China is by far the largest grower and consumer in the world, with over 12 million tons harvested each year.

Tangerines arrived in Europe in the 1800′s by way of North Africa, where a large varietal was grown in Morocco. Exported through the port of Tangier, the fruit became know as Tangerine.

The clementine fruit is small and seedless, and has become very popular in the US. As it is sterile (no seeds), shoots need to be grafted onto other varietals. This varietal was created by a French missionary in Algeria over 100 years ago. His name was Marie-Clement Rodier.

Nutritionally, all mandarins are similar. For a 50 calorie mandarin, you get 2 grams of fiber, and just over 2 teaspoons worth of sugar. Each mandarin will provide half a day’s worth of vitamin C, as well as multiple other antioxidants.

Compared to oranges, mandarins are easy to peel and separate into individual sections. The clementines, being seedless, are a perfect snack for young children.

There, now you know!

Get Fooducated

  • Joe Seals

    I thought you might like to know…

    “A mandarin orange is a slightly smaller relative of the standard orange. The tangerine and clementine are varietals of the mandarin, much in the same way gala and fuji are apple varietals.”

    – In the citrus industry and among citrus botanists, “Mandarin” is the name given to a large group of closely related species within the Citrus complex (probably all under the subgenus Metacitrus and Section Acrumen).
    Because many look like small oranges (not as closely related a species within
    the genus Citrus), they have been called “mandarin oranges”. The name “tangerine” first came into common usage in the United States, probably as a corruption of the idea that the mandarin types that came to the United States from Europe came to Europe from Tangiers (which originally came from southeast China). The name “tangerine” is strictly a marketing name and has no botanical standing; it’s used interchangeably with the name “mandarin” and is not a “varietal” of the mandarin.

    “The clementine fruit is small and seedless, and has become very popular in the US.”

    — ‘Clementine’ is a “cultivar” (= cultivated variety, not “varietal”) within the subgroup of mandarins called “common mandarins” (sometimes
    classified as Citrus reticulata, which may or may not have true botanical standing). ‘Clementine’ fruits develop because of something called “parthenocarpy”, which means it can do so without pollination and hence without developing seeds. It is not sterile however; it can be pollinated and if it is pollinated – by a citrus cultivar that does produce pollen — ‘Clementine’ will produce fruits with seeds. [Side note: there have been citrus growers who grow seedless cultivars that have sued bee-keepers and nearby seed-producing-citrus growers when their seedless fruits have produced seed.]

    – The term “varietal” is not commonly used in the citrus industry. It is common in the wine industry, however, where cloned tissue (a laboratory process) of selected cultivars of wine grape are propagated because of their subtle differences (hopefully desirable) within a cultivar.

    As it is sterile (no seeds), shoots need to be grafted onto other varietals. This varietal was created by a French missionary in Algeria over 100 years ago. His name was Marie-Clement Rodier.

    — “Grafting” has nothing to do with citrus producing seeds or not or being sterile or not, nor does it in some way keep a non-seed-producing cultivar producing seedless fruit. Also, the term “grafting” is not the appropriate term for the vegetative propagation technique that is used to produce new citrus plants. The technique that is used for producing new plants is “budding”, whereby a small chip (just the bud) of a desired cultivar is placed into an incision on the rootstock. A rootstock offers such qualities as disease resistance, smaller stature and soil adaptability to the overall plant (but no sterility offsetting quality). Technically speaking, “grafting” is a technique whereby a large piece of plant, usually a 6 to 12-inch stem, is inserted into a large cut of the under-stock plant; although this technique is used by some commercial growers for something called “top working” and by some amateurs, it is not the way new citrus trees are propagated.

    — Most citrus botanists now agree that ‘Clementine’, more than likely, is the same as the “Canton mandarin” (found in China) and not the accidental hybrid found in the orphanage garden maintained by Father Clement Rodier.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Thanks for the clarification, clearly we need a botanist on the Fooducate team!

      • Joe Seals

        I’m a retired professional restaurant chef but my degree is in Environmental Horticulture with minors in biology and botany. I’ve taught culinary arts and horticulture. If you ever want to pass an article by me for “horticultural/botanical checking/editing”, I’d be happy to lend a hand.

        • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

          Thanks Joe, will do!
          What are some good online resources for this type of information?

          Hemi
          Fooducate

  • Melissa

    I like to call them Satsuma’s, because it’s fun to say! :)