What are Clementines, Mandarins, Satsumas and Tangerines?
It is confusing to browse the citrus aisle in a retail store for easy-peelers because of the plethora of names and descriptions used: Satsumas, Clementines, Tangerines, Mandarins, etc. There is quite a list, which has largely developed to help retailers differentiate a complex group of similar fruit for consumers.
To help understand these fruit a little better, below are some one-liners on the main groups, followed by a little more detail:
Mandarin is the name given to all types of easy-peeler citrus fruit.
Although the name is sometimes used on retail packaging, mandarin is actually the collective name for all easy-peeler type citrus fruit, which are thought to have originated in north-east India or south-west China. The broad similarities between these types are: a small to medium size fruit, rind that peels away quite easily, sweetness, a distinctive flavour, and popularity!
Mandarins are broadly categorised as: Satsumas, Mediterranean Mandarins, King Mandarins, Common Mandarins, and Tangors / Tangelos. The Mediterranean and King Mandarins are of limited commercial importance, but the other three contain all the varieties that we see in our retail stores.
Satsumas are a distinct type of mandarin which are soft and very easy to peel with juicy sweet, slightly tangy, but mildly flavoured segments.
The Satsuma is distinct type and easily recognisable mandarin, which is particularly popular in UK. It originated from Japan in its modern form of 3 or 4 varieties, such as Okitsu and Mihowase. The rind is very easy to remove, the fruit is quite delicate, and the flavour is mild with a delicious tang and background sweetness. They are also very juicy, with soft segments, which is part of their attraction. Satsumas are seasonal as they do not store well, and there are very few late season varieties. As a result, there are gaps in availability in January/February and August/September.
The name clementine describes the majority of easy-peelers on sale over the year, so is quite a loose term for a whole range of mandarin varieties.
The name clementine covers the many different Common Mandarin varieties, as well as a fair few of the Tangors and Tangelos, so it is a type of mandarin rather than a distinct variety in itself. Most of the common easy-peeler varieties have been described as clementines at one time or another, which is understandable as they have a similarity in the eyes of consumers, and their differences are mostly subtle until the late varieties come into the market. There are always some types of clementine on sale, except in a brief period May / June when the Ortanique is the only available mandarin, other than Satsumas. Describing an Ortanique as a clementine would be misleading, as it is quite difficult to peel.
There is no firm definition of a Tangerine, but the term tends to be used for late season varieties that are more firm and less easy to peel than a standard clementine-type.
In North America the name Tangerine is commonly used for a number of later varieties with deep colour and thin, fairly tight rinds, such as Honey Tangerine. In UK the term is used more loosely, though it is the lesser known clementines and hybrid varieties that are usually so named.
There are many other names given to mandarin types, such as Sweetclem, Easy-peeler, Clemgold, Clemcott, and so on. These are often either brand names used by retailers to help broaden their ranges, or registered names used by growers to separate a particular variety from a crowd of subtly different varieties.
Satsuma: Okitsu, Owasaki, Mihowase, Clausalina
Common Mandarin: Clementines, Clemenules, Clemenvilla, Fina, Marisol, Nour
Tangors & Tangelos: Nadorcott, Or, Mor, Minneola, Murcott, Ortanique
Small-fruited Mandarins: Nanfengmiji