They’re tangy. They’re tart. They’re orange. But they sure aren’t oranges.
Tangerines are their own thing, thankyouverymuch, with the tiny treats bringing their very own benefits to the fruit bowl.
Indeed, many people confuse tangerines and oranges – which totally makes sense. In fact, you might chalk it up to a family resemblance.
Tangerines are actually thought to be descendants of the original yellow-red fruit, with their genus, Citrus tangerine, traced back to a cross between a mandarin orange and a pomelo, a green-skinned grapefruit forerunner with tart, citrusy insides.
But unlike their OG ancestors, which originated primarily in China, tangerines are historically more associated with Tangier, Morocco, the namesake port city which they were famously shipped from on their way to charming the taste buds off everyone in Southern Europe and, eventually, the Americas. (“Tangerine” actually used to be a term broadly describing anything coming out of Tangier, but somehow the little fruits came to own the designation.)
As a fruit in their own right, tangerines began to be bred for variety back in the 1800s, spreading their seeds to a number of cultivars along the way – including a handful of some of the most popular produce aisle options at any grocery store today.
Perhaps the most famous type of tangerine, Clementines are still grown in Morocco today – but the popular fruits are also widely cultivated in Spain, Uruguay, Peru and the United States.
Aside from their striking orange color, Clementines can be recognized by their shape – they’re wider than they are tall, coming off more squat than circular. And their easy-to-peel skin has made them a soccer halftime standby for years.
Plus, Clementines are sweethearts, typically much more sugary – and less acidic – than their tangerine brethren, and seedless to boot, making them an awesome snack even at non-halftime intervals.
Admittedly not as pretty as their Clementine cousins, these tangerine varietals are at least true to their name, with bumpy, pock-marked skin that looks a bit more like the small rocks dug out of the earth – or the small pieces of breaded chicken – than a smooth-skinned small orange.
But under all those wrinkles is a true inner-beauty, with dense, deep-orange sections heavy with sweet juice.
In fact, Golden Nuggets are one of the heaviest tangerine varieties, renowned – and usually sought after – for their juicing prowess, making them, to some breakfast enthusiasts at least, worth their weight in gold.
Half-tangerine, half-orange, these hybrids were first bred in the orange-loving lands of Florida, where a farmer named Charles Murcott was experimenting with creating novel citrus fruits in the 1920s.
His namesake result is easy to peel, sweet and juicy with a clean citrusy scent and smooth orange color. We wouldn’t mind having something like that named after us, either!
First developed in California in the 1920s, these tangerine varietals are less sweet than some of their relatives, paler in color and just moderately juicy.
Their standout quality is closely linked to their name, with Pixie tangerines typically taking up far less room than the rest of the pack, at an average diameter of just 1-3 inches.
And they do share the same seedless quality of many good tangerines, as well as an easy peelability. Not bad for something that can snugly fit in the palm of your hand!
This special tangerine variety hails from Japan, but its scrumptious qualities have made it a global superstar.
Satsuma tangerines are exceptionally sweet, but just tart enough to prevent any toothaches, with a seedless, plump, and easily-segmented pulp that carries a far stronger scent – and much less acid – than most other tangerine cultivars.
Their laundry list of highly-edible qualities makes satsumas particularly popular tangerines in the kitchen, where they regularly appear in everything from salads to stuffing to stir-frys.
Perhaps unsurprisingly coming from California, this type of tangerine is nearly as pretty as their namesake mountain town.
Tahoe Gold tangerines are smooth-skinned, sporting a deep orange outside and a particularly delicate, juicy flesh underneath. That they’re known for their sweetness – and are entirely seedless – also make this varietal a particular favorite for juicing.
Another Golden State native, Yosemite Gold tangerines actually tend to take on more tendencies of their orange parent, presenting as much larger than most of their relatives and also sporting a taste that takes many notes from their originators.
With an average diameter of 3-4 inches, these types of tangerines have a lot more to offer – and that’s before even considering their rich bite, clean scent and sweet taste, tinged with just a hint of acid.
But even if you’re outside of Florida, Morocco or California’s enchanted borders, you’re still bound to have a golden time with whatever type of tangerine you come across.