Clementines, Satsumas and Tangerines, what exactly is the difference? Well, the botanist are still arguing and there are several rival forms of classification. But essentially they are all seem to be descended from the mandarin family, a catch all nickname for loose skinned, small, flat, orange type fruit that originated in China. Satsumas may, or may not, be part of this family but clementines and tangerines almost certainly are
Leafy Italian clementines, green skinned Italian tangerines and Spanish satsumas
Mandarins from China arrived in the West a couple of hundred years later than other citrus, first pitching up in England in 1805. From here they were introduce to mainland Europe, particularly the Mediterranean countries, then Australia and the USA.
Today we seem to have three main types descended from the original Chinese mandarins.
Tangerines as we call them in Europe (still mandarins in the USA) are closest to the original Chinese fruit. They’re not that widely grown these days, a pity as they have a lovely flavour. They also have rather a lot of pips which probably explains their current lack of popularity. If we see them at all it usually after Christmas, mostly from Italy and usually organic. In recent years the tangerine has had a bit of a revival in professional kitchens where their delicious juice is often used for sorbets.
Clementines are probably the most popular of all the mandarin varieties and deservedly so. They have an excellent, very distinctive flavour and are usually seedless. In her seminal Fruit Book Jane Grigson states that they originated in Algeria in the early twentieth century. It seems they were developed by Father Père Clément who crossed (probably accidentally) a mandarin with a Seville orange in an orphanage garden near Oran. However renowned Japanese botanist Tanaka insists that the clementine’s origins are much earlier, probably a natural mutation from a Chinese mandarin that was brought by migrants first to North Africa then Europe. Either way this lovely fruit certainly has a place in the toe of your stocking, the true taste of Christmas.
Satsumas have a mild flavour with less acidity than other mandarin types. Unlike most other citrus they grow well in cooler climates which may explain why this rather bland fruit still has a significant share of the market. Satsumas probably originated in Japan in the 16th century and, according to some botanists, may be an entirely separate species.
Kumquats are from Venus.