By Erin Marissa Russell
Most of us have a general idea of the distinction between oranges and tangerines, two fruits in the citrus family that are common at the grocery store. Oranges are a broad category of tree fruits that includes navel oranges as well as blood oranges, Valencia oranges, mandarins, clementines, tangerines, and satsumas.
“Tangerine” is a term used to refer to some members of the mandarin orange category. Specifically, tangerines are related to the Chinese mandarin orange varieties. That means that while all tangerines are mandarin oranges, not all mandarins are tangerines.
While mandarins are oranges that are relatively easy to peel, the term “tangerine” has especially been used to refer to those mandarins that have a reddish-orange skin. However, there’s a chance that you will find tangerines being sold under the label of mandarin oranges and vice versa.
In truth, there are many different facets we can use to compare these two citrus fruits and learn more about them. In this article, we’ll especially delve into the difference between tangerines and oranges when it comes to botany, appearance, flavor, and nutrition.
Tangerines vs Oranges: Botany
- Both oranges and tangerines are members of the citrus fruit family, a group of fruits that come from trees that are flowering rue plants from the family Rutaceae.
- Fruits we call oranges are the result of hybrids between pomelos and mandarins. However, the fruits we call the tangerine are hybrids between different types of mandarins. That means while orange fruits like the navel orange or blood orange will have a pomelo as an ancestor, tangerines only have mandarin ancestors.
- Both oranges and tangerines are commercially produced all year round, with different varieties sometimes available at different times of year. Tangerines are “in season” and taste their best in the period between late October and January. Oranges are “in season” and have the best flavor in the period between November and March. However, outliers in each category may have a different period that they’re at their peak.
- While oranges originated from Asia (specifically from south China and Indonesia), the tangerine was first produced in Florida in the 1800s.
Tangerines vs Oranges: Appearance
- Oranges, including the blood orange and navel orange tend to be larger than tangerines, which are often small enough to be tucked into a pocket as a portable snack. The smaller size of tangerines leads to them occasionally being referred to by the moniker “baby oranges.”
- While oranges tend to be more perfectly round, tangerines have a less perfectly rounded, squatter shape that is somewhat flattened on the top and bottom.
- The skin of an orange holds tighter to the fruit’s flesh than the skin of a tangerine, making the tangerine easier to peel than the orange. The tangerine’s thin skin also tends to be softer, with more “give” than the skin of an orange. This softness is simply a result of the tangerine’s natural traits and does not indicate that the fruit has spoiled.
- Tangerines and oranges have a textural difference to their flesh as well. While ripe oranges tend to become heavy and firm, tangerines will become softer as they get more and more ripe.
- There are varieties of orange that have seeds and varieties that are seedless, and the same is true for tangerines—you’ll find both seeded and seedless varieties in both these categories.
- We’ve already mentioned that the skin of tangerines tends to be more reddish-orange than the skin of your standard orange. However, the distinction in color isn’t limited to just the skin. The flesh of an orange tends to be a more yellow-orange hue, while tangerines tend toward a more red-orange flesh to go along with their darker skin.
Tangerine vs Orange: Flavor
- Both tangerines and oranges share the same basic taste: the characteristic sweet-tart, juicy flavor of citrus fruits.
- The tangerine’s flavor tends to be just a bit sweeter than the orange’s flavor is, though both fruits are sweet.
- Oranges are a bit more acidic than tangerines are. The average pH level of an orange is between 2.4 and 3.0.
- In general, tangerines have a stronger citrus flavor than an orange does, so tangerines are considered more flavorful than oranges.
- Although eating either fruit will result in a citrus aftertaste, the aftertaste from eating a tangerine is shorter than the aftertaste from eating an orange.
Tangerines vs Oranges: Nutrition
- Overall, the nutrition content of a tangerine is very similar to that of an orange.
- Oranges contain much more vitamin C than tangerines, with 89 percent of the recommended daily value as compared to the tangerine’s 44 percent vitamin C.
- Oranges have a bit more soluble fiber than tangerines, providing 2.4 grams as compared to the tangerine’s 1.8 grams and almost no fat.
- Tangerines have just slightly more calories than an orange, with tangerines containing 53 calories per serving while a serving of oranges has 47 calories.
- Tangerines also have a bit higher carbohydrate count than an orange, with a tangerine holding 13.3 grams of carbs while oranges hold 11.7 grams of carbs.
- Tangerines offer 10 percent more of the recommended daily value of vitamin A than oranges, with 14 percent as compared to the four percent an orange provides.
- Both tangerines and oranges contain five percent of a person’s recommended daily value of potassium.
While at first glance tangerines and oranges may seem to be almost identical, as you can see the truth is that they have many different small areas of distinction. And now that you’ve learned about how tangerines and oranges differ when it comes to their botany, appearance, taste, and nutrition, you’ll know just when to use each of these types of citrus fruit.