A tangerine is a citrus fruit, Citrus reticulata, which is smaller and less sweet than a classic orange. Tangerines are closely related to mandarins, and the two fruits are in fact considered the same species. The tangerine has been a popular winter fruit since the 1800s, when the small fruits were first brought to Europe along with other exports from Morocco. The fruits are sometimes considered excellent pocket foods, because they are small with easily removed rinds.
The word for tangerines is derived from Tangier, a major city in Morocco. Since the city is located in the Northern part of the country, it was well suited to cultural and economic exchange with Europe, and a large assortment of items were exported through Tangier. In 1710, the word “tangerine” entered the English language to describe things from that city, and the word was adopted for the fruit specifically in the 1800s. Originally, it was known as a “tangerine orange,” but the name became shortened over time.
A classic tangerine is differentiated from a mandarin by its deep red to orange color. Mandarins are a Chinese export with yellow to orange peels, probably named after the richly colored robes of the Mandarin bureaucrats of Imperial China. The peel of a tangerine is easy to remove, and tends to be slightly loose over the fruit below, which can make it difficult to determine whether or not a piece of fruit is of high quality. Once the peel is removed, the segments of the tangerine are also easily separated, and most varieties have an abundance of seeds.
Although the tangerine typically has a slightly sour, tart flavor, numerous sweet cultivars have been developed. These include the honey tangerine or murcott, one of the most popular varieties of the fruit. Fairchild tangerines are hybrids developed for their sweetness and rich flavor, while Sunburst tangerines are sweet and almost entirely seedless.
The season for tangerines is November through January in the Northern hemisphere. When selecting the fruits in the store, consumers should look for firm to hard fruits which feel rather heavy for their size. The peel may have a pebbly appearance, but it should not be discolored. Other varieties have smoother skins, and tangerines can often be found with their stems and leaves attached. The fruit can be eaten out of hand, or used in preserves, sauces, and an assortment of other foods.