Produce of the Week - Tangerines
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Tangerines are clearly distinct from Oranges: out of the first ten or so Google returns on 'tangerine', one has to do with the fruit, the rest seem to be related to popular music, while 'Orange' returns a bank account and a phone company, and well down the list, an article on the fruit. The two fruits share a lot - color, genetics, elements of scent and flavor, but they differ in most of these, too.
Tangerines are Mandarins (Citrus reticulata), while the Orange is apparently a cross between reticulata and another of the four fundamental citrus, Citrus maxima. This genetic difference is reflected in the physical properties of the fruit. Oranges tend to be spheroidal, while tangerines are generally pumpkin, and sometimes pear shaped. Oranges have clingy skins with a thick underlay of pith, while the skin of tangerines has a very thin underlay and, in most varieties, is only loosely attached to the fruit, and in some, barely attached at all.
The citrus as a family are apparently pretty promiscuous, both across and within these four groups, so that there is a lot of opportunity for new varieties to arise. Sometimes these are commercially viable, and for some reason this seems to be particularly true for Tangerines, so you're likely to find a greater variety of these than of Oranges, or any other citrus fruit.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to keep the varieties straight. Varietals are often marketed under trade names and even the general nomenclature is inconsistent - I've seen Tangerines marketed under at least four different English names used generically: Tangerine, Satsuma, Clementine and Mandarin, the first a place name, the second and third varietal names, and the fourth the proper name for the entire class of fruit (so this article might have been titled "Mandarins", only then it might be mistaken for a society piece). If variety matters - and there are real differences in physical characteristics such as peelability, separability and juiciness as well as in flavor - it may be more helpful to concentrate on distinguishing varieties by shape and feel (judging firmness and closeness of skin to flesh) than variety name, if it's even specified. It's a bit like having to pick a wine by its color (not 'white or red', but particular shade of white or red) and the shape of the bottle.
Taste a tangerine, and you know it's cousin to the orange. But it seems to me there's a significant difference in the way the two fruits present their flavor. The flavor of an orange is largely all of a piece, and while oranges differ in sweetness, acidity and fullness of flavor, and you can distinguish Navel from Valencia by flavor, it's difficult to go much farther than this in breaking down the flavor of an orange. You can go farther with tangerines. This is hinted at by one article which suggests that tangerines are sweeter, and sourer, than oranges, both at once, I think the article means. The tangerine treats the taste buds more subtly than does the orange, allowing for a number of components to be identified, so as well as 'citrus' or 'orange', you may name 'honey', 'vinegar', 'white wine', 'cherry', maybe even 'tea'. The flavor of tangerines is less dominating than that of oranges, but at the same time more complex.
In Southern California, suggesting how to eat citrus might seem like telling grandma how to suck eggs. Still, I wonder if enough attention is given to the possibilities of cooking with citrus. So I'll mention using them in sautee, where the sugars will caramelize nicely, and the acid will compliment a variety of vegetables, from beet to broccoli. The color's nice, too. Think of adding some lightly braised tangerine sections to the vegetables for a pasta primavera, for example.
Thanks to UC Riverside for this week's photo