Tangerines: The Small But Mighty Citrus Fruit

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Tangerines are a small citrus fruit that belongs to the same family as oranges and grapefruits. These fruits are known for their sweet, tangy flavor, easy-to-peel skin, and numerous health benefits.

What is a Tangerine?

Tangerine (Citrus reticulata) is a citrus fruit in the mandarin orange family. It is pronounced “tan-juh-reen” and is believed to have originated in Tangier, Morocco. Tangerines are generally smaller than oranges, with thin, easy-to-peel bright orange skin. They are known for their sweet and tangy flavor, similar to an orange but slightly more tropical and floral.

Tangerines are often confused with clementines, a type of mandarin orange similar in size and appearance. However, tangerines are typically larger than clementines and have a more distinct flavor. Tangerines also have slightly thicker skin than clementines, which makes them easier to peel.

Visually, tangerines are round or slightly oval and have a slightly flattened top and bottom. The skin is thin and smooth, with a glossy appearance, and is easy to peel. The fruit’s flesh is divided into juicy segments and contains seeds, although some varieties are seedless.

Regarding flavor, tangerines are known for their sweetness, with a hint of tanginess that makes them more refreshing than oranges. They have a bright, citrusy aroma and a juicy, pulpy texture that makes them a popular snack or ingredient in recipes.

The History of Tangerine

Tangerines have a long history and have been cultivated in China and Japan for over 3,000 years. In the United States, they are grown in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. There are many different varieties and hybrids of tangerines, including the tangelo, the Minneola tangelo, the Clementine, the tangor, and the Dancy tangerine.

The origin and journey of tangerines to the United States can be traced back to Japan, China, or northeastern India, where they are believed to have originated. 

They made their way to North Africa via the Silk Road trade route and were transported to various parts of the world through the seaport of Tangiers in Morocco, hence the name Tangerine.

The tangerine tree was introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s by an Italian diplomat who planted them in the consulate garden in New Orleans. Since then, it has been brought to Florida and has become widely popular all over America.

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Tangerines ripe for the picking in a tangerine orchard.

What Does a Tangerine Taste Like?

When eaten raw, tangerine has a sweet and tangy flavor that is more delicate than an orange. The flesh is juicy and tender, with a slight tartness that balances the sweetness. The skin of tangerine is thin and easy to peel, and it has a slightly bitter taste that can be used for zest.

The juice can be used as a marinade for meats or added to sauces and dressings for a citrusy flavor. Tangerine zest can be added to baked goods or used to flavor syrups and jams. Tangerine segments can also be roasted with other fruits or used in salads for a burst of sweetness and tanginess.

How to Tell When Tangerines Are Ripe

Here are some tips on telling when tangerines are ripe and selecting the best fruit when shopping for them:

ColorA ripe tangerine will be bright orange. If the fruit is still green or yellow, it’s not yet ripe. However, remember that some tangerine varieties, such as the Satsuma, may have looser skin and a slightly greenish tint when ripe, so it’s best to rely on other indicators.
TextureA ripe tangerine will have smooth, shiny skin free from blemishes or soft spots. The skin should also be thin and easy to peel. The fruit may be overripe or past its prime if the skin is rough or wrinkled.
FirmnessA ripe tangerine should feel firm but slightly soft. If the fruit is too hard, it may not be fully ripe, while a fruit that is too soft may be overripe and mushy.
ScentA ripe tangerine should have an unmistakable sweet, fragrant aroma. If the fruit doesn’t smell much or has a sour odor, it may not be ripe or start to spoil.

Are Tangerines and Mandarins the Same Thing?

Tangerines and mandarins are often used interchangeably, but they are different. The confusion arises because tangerines are a type of mandarin orange. However, there are different opinions on whether tangerines are a distinct variety or a hybrid of mandarins.

According to some experts, tangerines are a separate citrus fruit from mandarins, with a thinner skin and sweeter flavor. Others argue that tangerines are a hybrid of mandarins and other citrus fruits, such as pomelos or sweet oranges.

One reason for the confusion is that “mandarin” can describe a group of citrus fruits that includes tangerines, clementines, and satsumas. These fruits are all part of the same species, Citrus reticulata, but they have different characteristics and origins.

Cooking with Tangerines

Tangerines are a versatile fruit that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. They are commonly used in traditional Asian cuisines, especially Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese. Tangerines can be used to add a sweet and tangy flavor to dishes or can be used to balance out the spiciness.

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Tangerine sorbet is a delicious treat that boasts delicate and sweet, citrusy flavors.

Here are a few examples of dishes that use tangerines:

Tangerine Beef: This Chinese-inspired dish features tender strips of beef marinated for a longer time, and complemented by tangerine zest and juice, giving it a sweet and tangy flavor. 

Asian-Inspired Tangerine Pork Chops: This recipe has a little bit of everything: sweet, salty, savory, crunchy, and juicy. This recipe combines pork tenderloin with a tangy tangerine glaze, giving the dish a deliciously sweet and citrusy flavor. The addition of soy sauce, brown sugar, and allspice potentiates the complex flavors of this dish.

Salmon with Tangerine Sauce: This recipe features baked salmon topped with a flavorful sauce made with tangerine sauce and the addition of other zesty companions. This dish is perfect for summertime when you want something light but satisfying!

Tangerine Sorbet: This refreshing dessert is made with fresh tangerine juice and sugar and is perfect for a hot summer day.

How to Store Tangerines

Tangerines can be stored in various ways, depending on how long you want to keep them fresh:

If you plan to consume them within 3-4 days, you can keep them on the counter, away from direct sunlight and heat.

If you need to store tangerines for a more extended period, the best option is to refrigerate them in a resealable plastic bag and store them in the crisper drawer.

If you want to extend the shelf life further, you can store them in a freezer bag with a tight seal, which prevents the fruit from losing water quickly.

Additionally, it’s helpful to know that peeled tangerines can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.

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Tangerines can be simply kept in a basket on your kitchen counter.

Nutritional Benefits of Tangerines

Tangerines offer a wealth of health advantages due to their high vitamin C and A levels. Additionally, tangerine peels contain a potent antioxidant called tangeretin, which has been shown in research to help lower cholesterol levels. 

The fruit also offers numerous other benefits, such as promoting skin health by aiding collagen production, preventing and treating sun-induced skin damage, and supporting eye health by delaying cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. 

Moreover, consuming fresh tangerines may significantly decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Tangerines are also a great source of dietary fiber, which can help with weight loss.

Where to Purchase Tangerines

They are usually easy to find in grocery stores but may also be available at farmers’ markets or specialty stores that carry a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Tangerines are generally available in fall and winter, from October to March.

If you want to purchase tangerines in a grocery store, you can check the produce section or fruit aisle. They are typically sold loose or in bags and may be labeled as “mandarins” or “clementines,” depending on the variety. Some stores may also carry organic or specialty varieties of tangerines, such as blood oranges or tangelo.


Alexandra is a passionate writer who reveres exploring exotic fruit from far-off lands. While she’d like to one day live in a tropical paradise, she reserves that for her palate for now: from the tartness of the tamarind to the sweetness of the mangosteen. She invites others to join her on this journey of discovery, where every fruit is a new adventure.

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