Another interesting orange is the Mandarin orange. The mandarin orange tree is a variety of the orange family, and many times people confuse them with tangerines because of their size but not all mandarins are tangerines. Cultivars and crosses between the original mandarin and other citrus fruits include the tangerine, which we’ll look at separately in a later article. The Mandarin Orange is actually a relative of the sweet orange. Mandarin oranges are available from November to January.
ORIGINS OF THE MANDARIN ORANGE
The mandarin orange is a native of south-eastern Asia and the Philippines. It is most abundantly grown in Japan, southern China, India, and the East Indies. In the very early 1800’s, a variety of the Canton, China mandarin traveled to England and it wasn’t until 40-50 years later that the ‘China Mandarin’ was imported and planted by the Italian Consul in New Orléans. From there, they transported seedlings to Florida and then to California. The commercial cultivation of mandarin oranges in the United States has developed mostly in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and, to a lesser extent in Texas, Georgia, and California.
In traditional Chinese medicine, you find that the dried peel of the mandarin orange is used to regulate chi’i, in treating abdominal distension, enhancing digestion, and reducing phlegm. Mandarins still contain similar vitamins to regular oranges and are a good, healthy alternative as a snack food.
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Mandarin oranges are enjoyed as a Christmas tradition in Canada, particularly the Satsuma type from Japan. Five or ten-pound boxes will be either individually wrapped or given in Christmas stockings as special gifts. This custom goes back to the 1880s when Japanese immigrants received Japanese mandarin oranges as gifts for the New Year from their families back home, and the tradition quickly spread Eastward across the country even among the non-Japanese population. ‘Orange Trains’ alerted everyone along the way that the delicious oranges from Japan were back for the holidays, and even the train boxcars were painted orange.
During the Chinese New Year, Mandarin oranges (and tangerines) are considered traditional symbols of abundance and good fortune, and are often displayed in decorations or presented as gifts to friends, relatives, and even business associates during the two-week celebration. The tradition continued over cultural lines and you might even remember receiving a bag of oranges, nuts, and hard candy from your church at Christmas when you were younger.
Mandarin oranges are used in many ways: in fruit salads, in gelatin, and puddings, and as decorations on cake tops. The essential oil from the peel is used commercially in flavoring hard candy, ice cream, bakery good, and even chewing gum.
You’ll find canned mandarin oranges at your local grocery store and they are easily added to fruit salads and green lettuce summer salads. They’re one of my middle grandson’s favorite fruit, and Dorian can single-handedly finish a can all by himself and want more.
Mandarin oranges have the same health benefits as other oranges in Vitamin C and A; but they also have thiamine, riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and iron. Whether you enjoy the large, regular oranges or the small mandarin oranges, they are a good choice for a healthy diet.
How are oranges used in other ways? We’ve yet to discuss neroli oil, so stay tuned.
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