The most convenient snacking citrus tastes a whole lot better when you get them in-season and when they've had more time to ripen on the tree.
Clementines, tangerines, satsumas, tangelos, and halos are all different types of Mandarins. While 'tangerine' originally referred to a specific variety, it is now used interchangeable with the term 'mandarin.' Halos are a brand of mandarins comprised of two different varieties.
The different types are extremely similar in flavor and share several other characteristics:
- The peel is easily removed
- The segments easily separate
- Sweeter and less acidic than oranges
The sweetest and best tasting mandarins have less to do with the variety and more to do with how long they were left to ripen on the tree. That being said, there are a few things that differ between them:
- Clementines are a cross between mandarins and oranges, but sweeter and more flavorful. Halos brand (formerly Cuties) sell Clementines and W. Murcott mandarins, depending on the month (Clementines ripen first, followed my Murcott a few months later). They are so similar that they can be interchanged.
- Satsuma are much less durable than other mandarins, making them harder to ship and thus harder to find. However, they are the most common mandarin used for the canned mandarins you buy at the grocery store.
- Kishu mandarins are about the size of a walnut, and other than their size, they are similar to other mandarins.
- Tangelos are a cross between a tangerine and pomelo or grapefruit. Because of this, they are tarter and a little less easy to peel. Minneola and Page are the most common varieties, with Minneola being slightly more tart.
When are mandarins in season?
Mandarins are in season during the cooler months, from roughly November through April. Fresh Satsuma can show up in October if they are grown near you, but they aren't often shipped long distances due to their fragility.
Like other citrus, mandarins don't get sweeter after they are picked, so it's best if you can find some from a farmers' market that you've been able to taste test.
How to pick
Clementines, Satsumas, and all types of mandarins are hard to tell if they are ripe. And in the case of Halos, which are sold bundled in bags, you can't individually pick them anyway. There are a few tips that might help you find the good ones:
- Look for slightly loose skin. If the skin is too loose, it's a sign it has lost water weight and has dried out (think of clothes that fit well... not too tight, but not so baggy that it looks like you lost a ton of weight).
- The spot where the stem was should be soft and white. If it is brown, it was likely picked a while ago and is no longer very fresh.
- It should be very fragrant. If it is not, it was either picked too early from the tree or has been stored for too long and is drying out.
How to store
They can be left on the counter for a few days, or loose in the fridge for several weeks.
Should I buy organic?
If you can afford it, yes! The health risk of the pesticides found in (and on) conventionally grown mandarins is high. Based on information published by Consumer Reports, that means you would need 1-5 servings in a day to exceed the level of safety set by the EPA.
The data collected by the EPA looks at the toxicity and amount of each pesticide found in the edible portions of the fruit (not including zest). The full details can be found over on the Consumer Reports website. Check out this article, "Should I buy organic?" I look into the known health risks, but also try to be realistic and put the whole thing into perspective.
Each recipe below only uses ingredients that are in season at the same time as mandarins, or ingredients that have a year-round season. Since their season overlaps with the beginning or end of other fruits and vegetables, the recipes are grouped into early season, late season, or anytime they are available.
...For anytime they are in season
Clementine cinnamon rolls - recipe by Superman Cooks
Clementine creamsicle margaritas with chili salt - recipe by Yes to Yolks
...For late fall
Shaved cauliflower salad with clementines and pomegranate - recipe by Brooklyn Supper
Pomegranates come into season in September and last through December, so you can make this as soon as clementine season begins.