What Are Mandarin Oranges?

Is It a Mandarin, a Tangerine, or a Clementine?

Mandarin orange
Lilyana Vinogradova / Getty Images

Mandarin oranges, sometimes simply called mandarins, are some of the sweetest fruits of the orange family. A mandarin orange is a slightly smaller relative of the standard orange. If it was not for the mandarin, you would not have standard oranges. Standard oranges are 75 percent mandarin orange and 25 percent pomelo.

Mandarins can be separated into segments and used in salads, vegetables, main dishes, and desserts. Easy to peel, serve, and eat fresh; Mandarins are commonly canned and preserved in a light sugary syrup, too. 

Learn more about where mandarin oranges come from, where they are grown, and some of the different types you may find in the produce aisle of your supermarket. 

What Are Mandarin Oranges?

"Mandarin oranges" is a term that applies to an entire group of citrus fruits. This group, botanically classified as Citrus reticulata, includes varieties such as satsuma, clementine, dancy, honey, pixie, and tangerines in general. Most mandarins are sweeter than their other citrus cousins, while there are some tart varieties. Most mandarins have a bright orange skin that is easy to peel, and inner segments that are easily separated. There are seeded and seedless varieties.

The terms "mandarin orange" and "tangerine" are often used interchangeably, particularly outside the United States. This can be confusing because although a tangerine is a mandarin orange, not all mandarin oranges are tangerines. Tangerines are the most common variety of fresh mandarin orange found in the U.S. The first mandarin oranges to be exported to Europe were shipped from the city of Tangiers in Morocco, hence the moniker "tangerines."

The clementine fruit, a sterile variety of a mandarin, is small and seedless and has become very popular in the U.S. It is particularly favored for children since they are less of a choking hazard.

Origin of Mandarin Oranges

The name "mandarin" refers to the bright orange robes worn by the Mandarins, who were public officials of the ancient Chinese court. These delectable fruits were often reserved strictly for the privileged class in the Far East, another distinguishing reason why they are called mandarin oranges today. Although cultivated for over 3,000 years in China, mandarin oranges did not reach Europe and North America until the nineteenth century.

China is by far the largest grower and consumer in the world, with more 12 million tons harvested each year. Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Egypt are among the next most common producers. Mandarins are grown in the U.S., about 600,000 tons, mostly in California, Texas, and Alabama. 

Mandarins are a winter fruit. Mandarin oranges from Japan are a popular Christmas gift in the United States, Canada, and Russia. Also, they symbolize wealth and prosperity during the Asian Lunar New Year celebration.

Nutritional Value

Nutritionally, all varieties of mandarins are similar. A mandarin is about 50 calories. It has 2 grams of fiber, the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of sugar, and a whole day's worth of vitamin C. Mandarins are valuable sources of flavonoid antioxidants like naringenin, naringin, hesperetin, vitamin-A, carotenes, xanthins, and lutein; in fact, many times higher than in the oranges. Antioxidants have been credited with reducing your risk of getting diseases later in life.