By Erin Marissa Russell
Both mandarins and clementines are citrus fruit similar to oranges, but smaller, sweeter, and easier to peel—but what’s the real difference between a mandarin and a clementine? The two fruits are so similar that it’s easy to see why some people think these are two words for the same fruit, but that’s not the case. Keep reading to learn about the differences between mandarins and clementines when it comes to botany, appearance, taste, and nutrition.
Mandarins vs. Clementines: Botany
In short, clementines are a variety of mandarin. They are a hybrid between mandarins and sweet oranges. That means that while all mandarins are not clementines, all clementines are mandarins.
- The botanical name for mandarins is Citrus reticulata. “Reticulata” is a Latin word that means “reticulated,” a word that refers to a net-like pattern. Mandarins were given this name because of the net-like interlaced pattern made by their pith, the spongy white portion between the flesh and the rind.
- The botanical name for clementines is Citrus reticulata ‘Clementine’.
- Mandarins are one of the first citrus fruits—an ancestor of all other varieties of citrus that is native to Southeast Asia. They are actually a type of tangerine.
- Legend has it that a monk living in Algeria discovered clementines when he came across the naturally occurring hybrid between Chinese mandarin and sweet orange in the mandarin garden of his orphanage in 1902. The clementine was named for this monk, Father Clement Rodier. However, some experts believe clementines are much older and are native to China, from which they gradually spread to the Mediterranean.
- Mandarins are not a type of orange (making the common phrase “mandarin orange” technically incorrect). Instead, they’re a variety of tangerine.
- Clementines are sometimes called zipper oranges or kid glove oranges because of how easy it is to peel them. California clementines are sometimes called Christmas oranges because of their seasonal availability. California clementines are in season from the middle of November through January.
Mandarin Oranges vs. Clementines: Appearance
- The skin of a mandarin is a darker shade than the skin of an orange. The mandarin’s skin is also easier to peel than an orange’s skin because it is looser. Clementines also have a loose skin that makes them easy to peel.
- Both mandarins and clementines are smaller than oranges, though clementines are the smallest variety of mandarin orange. Both have a round shape that is slightly flat on the top and the bottom.
- Usually, a mandarin or clementine will separate into segments more easily than an orange would.
Mandarins vs. Clementines: Taste
- Some varieties of mandarin include seeds and some do not. However, all clementines are seedless.
- Both mandarins and clementines are sweeter than oranges, but the average clementine is slightly sweeter than other mandarins.
Mandarins vs. Clementines: Nutrition
Mandarins and clementines have strikingly similar nutrition profiles, with clementines offering slightly more vitamin C than mandarins. However, mandarins contain vitamin A, whereas clementines do not.
- An average clementine contains 35 calories, while an average mandarin has 40 calories.
- Both mandarins and clementines contain negligible amounts of protein and fat.
- Mandarins and clementines provide 9-10 grams of carbohydrates, one gram coming from fiber.
- The average clementine contains 36 milligrams of vitamin C (40 percent of your recommended daily value), while an average mandarin contains 20 milligrams of vitamin C (23 percent of the daily value).
- While clementines do not contain any vitamin A, mandarins have 17 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin A in the form of compounds called carotenoids.
- Both mandarins and clementines offer flavonoids and phenols, which have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer.
Now you should understand the difference between mandarins and clementines. Not only that, but you have a much more nuanced understanding of those differences than the general public. When it comes down to it, these two fruits are quite similar. The biggest difference is that clementines are a type of mandarin, a hybrid crossing mandarins with sweet oranges, while mandarins are a group of several different fruits that include not only clementines but satsumas, tangerines, and other varieties as well. This is the easiest way to explain the relationship between clementines and mandarins.