The orange is known as one of nature’s most perfect foods, and the tangerine, which is a hybrid in the mandarin family of oranges, is one of nature’s juiciest, most sweet-tasting delicacies.
Tangerines were first cultivated in China more than 3,000 years ago and didn’t reach Europe or the United States until the 1800s. Now, in addition to East Asia, tangerines are abundant on the Mediterranean, Australia, India and the East Indies, as well as in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.
The best months for tangerines are November through January in the United States and North America. They are smaller than most oranges and tangerines of good quality will be glossy with deep orange, loose-fitting skins, heavy for their size and feel soft and puffy. Tangerines can be safely stored in the refrigerator for up to seven days but also freezes well after juicing. Most people like to peel them and eat them right off the skin, although fresh tangerine juice as well as frozen juice concentrate are easily available and very popular in the United States. There are also many delicious and healthful recipes which use fresh tangerine wedges in main dishes, salads and desserts.
In addition to its uniquely sweet and mild, refreshing taste, the tangerine is an excellent source of nutrition, containing vitamins C, B1, B2 and B3, as well as potassium, magnesium, beta-carotene and folate. The properties of tangerine oil have been used for centuries in medicinal applications to help relieve stress and tension, as well as digestive problems such as flatulence, diarrhea and constipation. However, the most popular use for tangerine oil is for increasing circulation to the skin, preventing stretch marks and to reduce fluid retention.
The tangerine has spawned its own numerous tasty varieties of fruit from around the world as well as holiday tradition. The Dancy tangerine is often referred to as the Christmas Orange since it is a tradition in many places for children to receive them in Christmas stockings.
Other hybrids include the popular Clementine, which comes from Spain and North Africa and is a small, sweet-tasting tangerine with no seeds. Also known as the temple orange or royal mandarin, the tangor is a cross between a tangerine and an orange. The cross between a tangerine and a pomelo (a large citrus fruit related to the grapefruit) resulted in the tangelo. Of the tangelos, the Minneola is easily recognized by a little knob formation at its stem end and is one of the most popular tangerine varieties because of its juiciness and sweet, mild flavor.