A mandarin orange is a citrus fruit native to Southeast Asia. The fruits are prized around the world for their easily removed peels and sweet, zesty flavor. Several regions are major producers of mandarin oranges, including the Southern states of America, several Mediterranean nations, and Mexico. The fruits are available in fresh form during the season in most markets, and in cans year-round.
The scientific name for the orange is Citrus reticulata, a reference to the easily separated segments of the classic mandarin. A number of cultivars are lumped under this specific epithet, including tangerines, clementines, and satsumas. All of these citrus fruits share the characteristic of thin, easily removed skin and readily dividable segments. The evergreen citrus trees can grow up to 25 feet (seven and a half meters), and produce characteristic glossy green foliage with sweetly scented white flowers.
The roots of the mandarin orange appear to lie in China and Southeast Asia, where the fruit has been bred and cultivated for centuries. The fruits are named for the rich orange robes of the Mandarins, high ranking court officials in classical Chinese culture. The color of the fruits closely mimicked the robes, and the fruits were traditionally reserved for the consumption of the upper echelons of society. Several cultivars are particularly famous, including the mikan or satsuma. Japan refined the cultivation of the satsuma to an art form throughout the Middle Ages, ultimately re-introducing the fruit to China.
The West was introduced to the orange in 1805, when specimen trees were imported to England from China. By the mid-1800s, the mandarin was being grown in the Mediterranean, and some consumers had also been introduced to the tangerine from Morocco. In the United States, mandarins were cultivated as early as 1850, when examples were brought to the South from China. Cultivation of the fruits quickly exploded, and the mandarin orange gained a soft spot in the hearts of many consumers.
Unlike some other members of the orange family, the mandarin orange is not routinely juiced. It is eaten out of hand, added to fruit salads, and included in jams and similar preserved foods. Canned mandarins are often used in desserts, since the canning process often includes the use of a sweetening syrup which enhances the naturally sweet flavor of the mandarin. Mandarins tend to be less sour than their citrus relatives, making them popular with consumers of all ages, and people often find them easier to eat because of the loose skin.