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What is a Satsuma?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A satsuma is a small seedless member of the citrus family. It is sometimes called a satsuma mandarin, since it closely resembles the mandarin orange. Satsumas are sweet, hardy, and easy to grow, making them a popular citrus cultivar around the world. In season, they can be found at many grocery stores, and enterprising gardeners may want to experiment with growing satsumas on their own.

Like other members of the citrus family, the satsuma has simple dark green glossy leaves and aromatic white flowers. The flowers mature into fruits which range in color from green to orange. Although a green satsuma might at first glance seem unripe, it is actually not unusual to encounter a sweet and flavorful version of the fruit in green. Unfortunately, many producers dye their green citrus fruits orange to make them more appealing. The attractiveness of the satsuma makes it a great ornamental tree.

The skin of a satsuma is slightly leathery, and tends to pull away from the fruit as it ripens. This can make it difficult to discern the quality of a satsuma, since the fruit could be bruised or dried out under the skin. As a general rule, try to aim for firm fruit with a strong citrus aroma. In addition to being sold fresh, satsumas are also canned for sale year round.

Although the satsuma is named after a province in Japan, the trees are actually native to China. Botanical records from China indicate that the satsuma has been in cultivation for thousands of years. It was allegedly brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk. Numerous cultivars of the satsuma were developed in Japan, and some were ultimately exported back to China. The fruit reached the West in the 1800s, when embassy personnel sent samples of the fruit and trees to the United States and Europe.

People who would like to grow satsumas at home should be aware that the while the plant is cold tolerant, it will not fruit as much in cooler regions. Ideally, the plant should be grown in an area which has warm, long summers, and it prefers full sun. In the winter, the plants will need to be taken indoors if the temperature falls far below the freezing point. The plants also thrive on minimal water, and prefer to be be left largely alone. For extremely sweet, flavorful fruit, try leaving satsumas on the branches for approximately one week after they appear to have fully ripened.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon924142 — On Jan 02, 2014

@genev: You are supposed to peel the skin off first.

By genev — On Dec 10, 2012

Why is the fruit tough? It tastes good, but the skin is very tough. Is there anything I can about this problem?

By anon299829 — On Oct 26, 2012

I bought a pack of satsumas, one of which looked exactly like a satsuma but once opened looked lemon like and tasted exactly like a grapefruit! Can someone explain what could have happened?

By anon204727 — On Aug 10, 2011

I have six acres of satsuma trees in production if you know anyone interested in purchasing the fruit. Harvest begins about Thanksgiving and end at Christmas. I am located in Jackson County, Marianna FL.

By peabody — On Aug 02, 2011

@EricRadley - I don't have a satsuma recipe, but I do have a question about them. Can satsumas be substituted for oranges in baking recipes or will the alter the flavor a lot?

By EricRadley — On Aug 01, 2011

@OeKc05 - You can also try tossing in segments of a satsuma into a regular salad (i.e. with no other fruits) and use some additional satsuma juice to make a vinaigrette. All you need is some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, the juice and some simple seasonings like salt, pepper, basil and thyme. It makes a delicious, fresh summer salad! If anyone has other recipes involving satsumas, I'd love to hear them.

By fingered — On Jul 31, 2011

The essential oil derived from satsumas is also quite delightful. It's a bit sweeter and more citrus-y than regular oranges. I know that The Body Shop makes a fantastic range of satsuma body washes, scrubs and so on. Does anyone know of other skin products where satsuma is heavily featured as the main ingredient?

By shell4life — On Jul 30, 2011

I take a satsuma mandarin with me as part of my lunch every day. This is where I get most of my vitamin C from. I don’t really like drinking orange juice, because it can be a tad bitter. This little fruit makes it easy to stay healthy.

I have found that satsuma mandarins taste great when eaten alongside tuna sandwiches blended with celery and grapes. They are also good dipped in milk chocolate for dessert. Often, though, I will save the satsuma for last and enjoy it purely on its own. It makes a great finish to a light meal.

By orangey03 — On Jul 30, 2011

I grow satsuma mandarins in my backyard. They do get better the longer you let them grow. This is because the longer that they stay attached to the tree, the more sugar they are able to develop.

Because they are best eaten when their sugar level has reached its peak, you have to be careful to avoid decay and mold. The higher the sugar content, the more susceptible the fruit is to both of these. If you notice mold or brown spots developing on a satsuma, get rid of it. Definitely remove it from the area of your other satsuma mandarins, because it will spread.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 29, 2011

I love even the canned variety of mandarins, so I imagine that a fresh satsuma must be totally delicious! Mandarins do have a touch of bitterness to them, and satsumas probably lack that quality, which would be a good thing. I have often wished for mandarins that had just a bit more sweetness.

Since I love putting canned mandarins in fruit salad with grapes, I am going to see if I can find some satsuma to use instead. I believe that the sweet grapes would go even better with this type of fruit.

By Perdido — On Jul 28, 2011

Wow, the satsuma sounds like the ideal tree for me! I live in an area with very hot summers that extend into October. Also, we frequently experience droughts during July and August. This tree could be one thing that could survive all of this.

I also like the fact that you don’t have to rush to pick the fruit. Sometimes it’s hard with a hectic schedule to keep an eye on your crops every day to make sure they don’t spoil. With the satsuma, I would have a whole week after the fruit got ripe to pick it.

By MissMuffet — On Jul 28, 2011

When I went to Vietnam I tried green satsumas for the first time. It was quite hard to eat the first one as the color just doesn't look natural. I suppose we get used to having certain expectations about how food should look.

They tasted great though, and I wish I could find them in a supermarket near my home. I can understand why some growers use gases to turn them orange, because that's what the public wants. After all, I was the same at one point.

By Windchime — On Jul 27, 2011

Satsuma, clementine, mandarin, tangerine - I get so confused by all the different types of small oranges. I don't suppose it really matters too much, as they all taste great.

As a child we always got a satsuma from Florida in our stocking. My mother grew up there and swore they were the most flavorful. I loved them because they had no pips and were so easy to peel.

By animegal — On Jul 26, 2011

Satsuma is a great fruit to take with you as a snack. They are healthy and even the largest ones only have around 30 calories in them.

As with all citrus fruits you can get a lot of benefits from adding satsuma to your diet. Satsuma has a ton of vitamin C in it which is great for your immune system. It can be a really nice change from just downing lots of orange juice.

Eating satsuma can also be really great for your skin. The antioxidants help to improve the look of your skin keeping you looking younger and healthy.

By wander — On Jul 26, 2011

Finding some satsumas at your local Asian market can be a real treat if you like other citrus fruits like oranges. They have a unique flavor that is like a slightly sweeter mandarin orange, especially when they are fully ripe.

Satsumas can either be eaten straight or you can use them to make a fantastic orange jelly. This jelly is great for use on toast or as a topping for ice cream.

The recipe is pretty easy all you need is juice from your satsumas, some lemon juice, sugar and a package of Sure-Jell.

All you need to do is boil the Sure-Jell with the juices and add the sugar. Once your done boiling everything you can place your satsuma jelly in jars to settle.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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