It’s not surprising that just as people have favorite sports teams, hometown hangouts, or colors, they have favorite tangerines as well. The winter citrus season is full of wonderful varieties that become available at different times, but the first two out of the gate, satsuma mandarins and clementine tangerines, always seem to trigger the "which is best" debate. The truth is, both are immensely popular and come into season at the perfect time as many summer fruits are vanishing from our produce departments.
If measured by an increase in U.S. production, the clementine would be the hands-down winner. About 15 years ago, most of the clementines sold in the U.S. came from Europe. In fact, if you live on the East coast, chances are good that much of the fruit available to you is still coming from Spain and Morocco later in the season. But as the popularity of this small, sweet tangerine increased, the variety also came to the attention of domestic growers and proved to be extremely prolific, particularly in the California Central valley. But despite the success of clementines, they still run a distant second in the eyes of the loyal satsuma fan base (particularly on the west coast).
Part of the appeal for both varieties is they are extremely easy to peel. Their "zipper-skins" make this fruit slightly different from most citrus. Ideally you should avoid oranges, grapefruits, and lemons that are soft and puffy. Not the case with clementines and satsumas, as fruit that is slightly soft to the touch is a normal (even desired) characteristic of the fruit. Both can be kept at room temperature or can be refrigerated if you want to stretch your supply at home to a week or more.
Clementines and satsumas come at the perfect time for salads, snacks, and entertaining. They make a perfect seasonal alternative to tomatoes as the field season and varieties wind down for the winter. The sweet, slightly acidic flavor makes for a great replacement for cherry tomatoes and you really haven’t had Chinese chicken salad until you’ve made it with fresh satsumas. But mostly, they are great as a snack that anyone can peel and everyone will enjoy. Both are available most everywhere through January, weather permitting, so find your favorite today.