Citrus has long been recognized as a vital nutrient source, most notably for vitamin C. Scientific research has also highlighted its neuroprotective qualities and value as a food source with antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. Mandarins share many of the nutrient-rich qualities of other citrus but with the added benefit of convenience as a snack and a sweeter taste profile. Aside from the sweet taste, mandarins also have a rich history, going back to the 1st millennium BC.
Mandarin oranges are one of the three oldest citrus species on earth. Along with citrons and pummelos, they are the predecessors of all other citrus fruits including lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit. Mandarins are native to China and northeastern India. At the time that they were introduced into Europe—around the turn of the 19th century— “Mandarin” was a common English term for a Chinese bureaucrat (who were known for wearing orange-colored robes) and so the association stuck and the fruit became known as a mandarin.
Mandarins are smaller, flatter, and easier to peel than navel oranges. They are sometimes called “kid glove” oranges or "easy-peel" citrus. This makes it a popular snack for people on the go and a great addition in school lunches. Since 2000, US mandarin consumption per capita grew 140%. There are several types of mandarins and they differ in size, quality, and harvest period. In the US, domestically produced mandarins are available from November through May, and imports supply grocery stores in the summer months.
Mandarins are quite difficult to grow. From a complexity standpoint, growing mandarins is like growing wine grapes. Their delicate flavor and intense aromatics require a skilled grower to bring them out and a mediterranean climate for high quality production. The California citrus belt spanning from Fresno to Bakersfield has the perfect climate and produces more than 95% of U.S. mandarins. The combination of California’s unique geography and skilled farmers make it a natural home for the crop.