What is a mandarin?
Sweet, juicy mandarins are a fragrant fruit found in children’s lunchboxes around Australia. Although an easy-to-peel favourite snack, mandarins are also perfect in Asian-style salads when tossed with rocket, coriander leaves and spring onions and a dressing of lemon juice and macadamia oil.
Mandarins are native to Southeast Asia and China and eventually they were introduced to Europe, North Africa, Australia and other parts of the world.
Two mandarin varieties were taken to England from China early in the 17th century. In 1850 they were well established in Italy and spread to other Mediterranean countries. The Italian Consul imported and planted mandarins in the consulate in New Orleans in the USA around 1850. Cultivation of this fruit then spread to Florida and California.
Mandarins were introduced to Australia from China in the 1820s. This fruit is mainly grown in Queensland and some southern states.
In Australia, the most common mandarins are the Imperial and the Ellendale varieties. The Imperial has smooth, glossy, golden orange skin that is easy to peel and contains few seeds. This variety is harvested early in the season. The Ellendale is a cross between a mandarin and an orange. It is larger than the Imperial and has orange skin with orange flesh. It is also easy to peel.
Other varieties include the Murcott (or Honey Murcott, Honey tangerine), which is very sweet, has many seeds and thin, tight-fitting skin. This variety is produced late in the season and it is a very popular export variety because of its tight skin, high sugar and its ability to transport well over long distances. The Daisy, Hickson, Afourer and Mystique are some other mandarin varieties that are grown in Australia.
The tangerine (Citrus tangerina), which is closely related to the mandarin, is also orange- coloured and resembles the mandarin.
Why mandarins are good to eat
- Mandarins are a good source of vitamin C and contain vitamin A, which is important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system.
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function) and magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong).
- Mandarins contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of mandarin supplies 190 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Mandarin trees are easy to grow. They grow best in sunny positions although they are cold-tolerant and can grow in a wide range of climates. The young trees also need regular watering. Mandarin trees are evergreens and do not lose their leaves in winter. The leaves are glossy and green and the tree produces fragrant, white flowers.
Mandarin trees take about 12 years to develop fully and young trees (for up to four years) do not produce much fruit. Mandarins are picked by hand in late autumn and winter when they are ripe. Their skins are easily bruised or damaged.
Choose mandarins that have glossy skin and feel heavy for their size. Avoid those with soft spots or other visible damage to the skin. Some varieties have loose skin and a puffy appearance. This is normal and these mandarins are easy to peel.
How to store and keep mandarins
Store mandarins at room temperature, away from direct sunshine. They will last up to a week when stored this way. To extend their storage life, place in the crisper section of your fridge. Mandarins will last for up to two weeks when refrigerated.
How to use
- Make a simple, refreshing salad – combine mandarin segments with lettuce (or other mixed greens), avocado and sliced red onion, and then dress with a citrusy vinaigrette.
- Serve fish with a mandarin sauce – cook mandarin zest in butter, add mandarin juice, mandarin segments and chopped dill and drizzle over grilled fish.
- Try couscous-stuffed chicken – add mandarin juice, chopped mandarins, finely chopped rosemary and thyme, toasted pine nuts, chopped baby spinach and garlic to couscous, then stuff the mixture in a chicken breast, pour over some mandarin juice and bake.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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