In China mandarins are considered symbols of abundance and good fortune. They are given as gifts and used for decoration during the Chinese New Year. This tradition crossed over to Europe, where many a child would find one or two tasty citrus fruits in their stockings on Christmas morning.
Theories vary about where the name originates from. But the most commonly accepted one is that the fruit is named after the officials of the Chinese Imperial Court who wore bright orange robes and were known as Mandarins. We have a lot to thank the mandarin for—for one, oranges! If it weren't for the little old mandarin, we wouldn't even have oranges, which are a hybrid made up of 75% mandarin DNA and 25% pomelo. When mandarins are harvested, they are picked by hand to avoid damage or bruising. New Zealand mandarins are available May through to September and at other times of the year they are imported primarily out of Australia.
Fresh mandarins also work well in a salad—think winter leaves like watercress or baby spinach, with avocado, red onion and pecans. More commonly used in sweet dishes, they work well with salmon and poultry, especially rich duck.
Mandarins pair well with cardamom, cherry, chocolate, cinnamon, coffee, fig, ginger, nutmeg, tropical fruits, vanilla and star anise.
Satsuma mandarins are a favourite around the world, as they are deliciously juicy, seedless and their loose skin makes them easy to peel. They are available early in the mandarin season from mid-April to mid-August. Encore are a later fruiting variety of an easy-peel mandarin, ensuring a longer season of mandarins in New Zealand. These are available October to March.
Clementine, a cross between a Seville orange and a mandarin, has thin, orange-green skin. Its flesh is juicy and tart (but less fragrant than a mandarin) and are often seedless. Harvested in July with availability for two to three weeks.
Did you know?
Mandarins originated in China, where visitors then spread the fruit trees to other parts of Asia, Arabia and North Africa. Eventually they were introduced to Europe through Tangiers in Morocco, which is why the Europeans began to call mandarins ‘tangerines’.