My Darling Clementine

By Andrea Laine

While shopping for my Thanksgiving meal, I passed up a sale on clementines at the grocery store because, while the sign advertising the sale called them clementines, the wording on the package actually read “mandarins.”

Now, I love clementines. They are the perfect anywhere snack – juicy and sweet, easy to peel, few if any seeds, and travel well so I can carry a couple in my handbag to stave off hunger when I am out and about between meals. But I was  suspect about what the store was actually trying to sell me.  Was it a mandarin masquerading as a clementine?

Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

I was curious enough to do some research and found a wealth of scientific citrus information at Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of California. There I was set straight on the matter. Yes, indeed, the clementine is a mandarin. Mandarin refers to a group of cultivars which includes ‘clementine.’  A cultivar is a variety that has been cultivated by man.

I also learned that the word tangerine is often used interchangeably with the word mandarin but actually the term tangerine was coined for brightly colored sweet mandarins that were originally shipped out of the port of Tangiers, Morocco to Florida in the late 1800s and the term stuck. So, a tangerine is really a mandarin, too.

There are three basic citrus types: mandarin, citron and pummelo. Others that we may think of as basic types or species are actually ancient hybrids or backcrosses of the three basics.

Clementines were not made popular in the United States until after the 1997 Florida winter that destroyed the citrus crops. Prior to 1997, they were mainly appreciated in Europe and imported from Spain and Morocco.

Alas, we may not be able to grow clementines in our Durham, NC gardens, but thankfully we can enjoy them all winter long courtesy of farms in California and Florida.

References and Resources: 
Post Harvest Technology website 
Citrus Variety Collection consists of two trees each of more than 1000 different citrus types.
Celebrate with clementines. 
A list of tree fruit that can be grown in North Carolina.