Clementines are small oranges that are seedless, easy to peel, and—when well-grown and ripe—perfectly sweet to eat, too. They're a favorite citrus snack for winter and well-known by the kid-friendly names "cuties" and "sweeties." Not only are clementines easy to eat, but they also are fundamentally cheery little fruits.
What Are Clementines?
Clementine is a type of mandarin orange. It's a hybrid of mandarin and sweet oranges and very similar to other mandarins like tangerines, satsumas, and Ojai pixies. They're among the smallest orange varieties, almost perfectly round, and typically seedless. Add to that their honey-sweet taste and thin skin which makes them easy to peel and separate into segments, and you have the perfect snack for children. It's no wonder that they're most often marketed in the U.S. as "Cuties" or "Sweeties."
Clementines have long been enjoyed in Europe, too. Their winter arrival at markets is heralded with high spirits and good cheer. It's a tradition to buy and eat these bright, sunny fruits and let their sweet, floral aroma fill the house. They're also a common edible Christmas gift or centerpiece.
How to Use Clementines
The peel of a clementine almost slips off. Very little, if any, of the pith clings to the fruit, and the membrane surrounding each section is delicate enough to be almost unnoticeable. Seeds are few and far between—many are even completely seedless.
You'll find these fruits to be fabulously portable and a sweet, refreshing snack in the middle of the day. Pack them in lunches or stick one in your purse or jacket pocket before heading out and it will be ready whenever you need a quick bite. The segmented fruit can also be added to salads and desserts, sliced up and spritzed with lemon juice and sprinkled with mint, or used in many ways you might use larger oranges. They're not particularly juicy, however, and it would take a lot of clementines to yield a significant amount of juice, so they are best used as whole segments.
What Does It Taste Like?
Clementines are noticeably sweeter than most other varieties of oranges. There's almost no bitterness or sour flavor, which adds to their appeal.
If you tire of just peeling and eating clementines out of hand, there are many great uses for them in the kitchen. Use them as a substitute for other oranges or add clementine sections to tossed or fruit salads. They're even a delicious treat when dipped into yogurt or melted chocolate.
Where to Buy Clementines
It's easy to find clementines in most markets. They're not expensive and sold in small crates, boxes, or bags, especially around Christmas time. The citrus fruit's association with the holiday season is a reasonable one since they are in season from late November through January. Spain still grows scads of clementines, but there are substantial groves in California and Texas as well.
Though clementines are generally a winter fruit, their popularity has led them to be available year-round. You might notice them labeled as "Summer Cuties" during the warmer months, which indicates that the fruit was grown in the Southern Hemisphere.
Store clementines in a cool place, but don't refrigerate them. As with all citrus, don't store clementines in plastic, either. It will make them sweat and spoil much quicker than they would when just left out to breathe in a bowl on the table. Clementines last for several weeks after they're picked as long as they are kept relatively cool and out of too much direct sunlight.
Nutrition and Benefits
Clementines may be small, but they offer the same nutritional benefits as other oranges. They're an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, and folic acid while contributing almost no fat and zero cholesterol to your diet. Adding them to your winter diet can help boost your immune system and ward off illness or help you recover from one more quickly.
Clementine vs. Satsuma
Satsuma and clementine are two very closely related orange varieties. The clementine is more popular in the U.S. and the satsuma in the U.K. Not quite as sweet or fragrant, satsumas have slightly thicker skin, are less round, and available a little earlier in the year. Quite often, you'll find satsumas with a couple of leaves attached.