Tangerines (Citrus reticulata) are a cross between a mandarin orange and a bitter orange. The term “mandarin” and “tangerine” are often used interchangeably, depending on where the fruit was grown. The citrus may also be labeled a tangerine if it has reddish-orange skin compared to the orange skin of a mandarin orange. Other citrus that are related to tangerines include clementines (a cross between a mandarin and an orange) and satsuma (a Japanese variety). Tangerines are named for Tangier, a town in Morocco that is the main shipment port of mandarins. Today the United States is the main producer of tangerines. The fruit is grown in the southwest and in Florida.
Tangerines grow on small trees similar in appearance to other citrus trees. The trees thrive in warm, dry climates. They produce small, fragrant white flowers in March and April that slowly develop into the fruit. Tangerines tend to be smaller than normal oranges and are slightly squashed so they resemble a tomato. Their skin tends to be a very deep orange to reddish-orange color. They have a loose skin that makes them much easier to peel and segment than oranges. The major downside of tangerines is that they are full of seeds, sometimes having four or five seeds per segment. For ease of eating, I like to hold each segment up to the light to locate the seeds and pinch them out with my fingernails before eating the fruit.
Tangerines are in season from November to January and can be found in most supermarkets. When purchasing tangerines, look for firm, deeply colored fruit. It is okay for the skin to feel a bit loose, but it should never be shriveled. Tangerines are best eaten as soon as you buy them, but they can be stored in the fridge up to two weeks.
Tangerine juice is much sweeter and tangier than regular orange juice. The juice is delicious alone or can be mixed in with orange juice or other fruit juices. The fruit makes a nice, compact snack and can also be used in a fruit salad or other dishes that call for oranges. Like other citrus fruits, tangerines have high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C.
Tangelos are a cross between a tangerine and another citrus fruit. For example, a mineola is a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit. Tangelos tend to blend the characteristics of both fruits.