Learn all about the Satsuma mandarin from what makes them different, where they are grown, and probably most importantly when are they in season.
The citrus world was all about the orange - particularly the Navel. For years this is what people turned to as a stable in their lunch bags.
Mandarins and tangerines always took a back seat. But that is no longer the case as marketing has taken off like never before seen in the produce world. Mandarins have really been coming on hot with growers developing new varieties so we can enjoy these easy to peel fruits for a good stretch of the year.
One of the first varieties out of the gate is the Satsuma. Let us educate you all about this delicious fruit.
🍊 What is a Satsuma
As the Asian name would seem to suggest these mandarins originated in Japan. Some say they may have come from China, but the Satsuma that first came to the United States are from Japan.
It is considered a mandarin. Sometimes people will interchange the term with tangerine, mostly I see Satsumas called mandarins. They are an easy to peel citrus that is mainly seedless although you do find occasional seeds in some specimens. They are juicy with both sweet and tart notes.
🍃 Stem & Leaf
Depending on the grower you may find that your Satsumas come with leaves attached. Not only does having the leaves attach make for a more appealing display at the grocery store, it also helps protect the fruit. By removing the stems, not the fruit directly from the tree, you don't accidentally rip the peel at the top. The leaves also working as "packing peanuts", help to cushion and protect the fruit in transit.
🚜 Where are They Grown?
When I first had Satsumas they were from California. I didn't know for years that you could grow them in other parts of the country. Until 2021, I had only had ones grown in California. That's all I found in the grocery stores. Then I started hearing about them being grown in Georgia. I thought "wow, that seems too far north for growing citrus".
I came to find out that Satsuma trees are tolerant of freezing temperatures. So they can withstand some cold without the trees dying, which is why they are grown in places like Georgia that do get frosts but don't have extreme winters. In fact now Georgia has surpassed California to become the number 1 state for growing Satsumas. Way to go Georgia!
They aren't the only southern state that grows them, you can also find them in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
📅 When They in Season?
In most grocery stores expect to find them from starting in early November and lasting into the first part of January. If you live in an area that grows them you may find them earlier and see them still around later.
Satsumas come in all sorts of packaging from paper bags to loose ready to purchase by the pound. They are available starting in November before Thanksgiving and lasting to around the New Year in most places. Earliest I have seen them before was November 5th.
One grower, Steven from Satsumas of Savannah told me he had planted a specific type of Satsuma that will ripen as early as October!
🤏 How to Pick
This might come as a surprise to you but color isn't all that important. We want to believe it is, but sometimes it's not. The fruit turns from green to orange with colder temperatures not with ripening only. In Europe, you can find Satsumas being sold as Emerald Green Satsumas that are completely green and completely ripe.
Instead you want to look for fruit where the peel feels loose. Like there is an air pocket in it. This only happens once the fruit inside of the peel has reached it's full size, but the peel itself still is growing. That means the fruit was ripen on the tree long enough to develop enough sweetness and flavor.
Also the fruit should feel heavy for it's size. Place some in the palm of your hand and pick out the ones that feel heavier to you. If it is feels light, that means the fruit is older and is drier on the inside as it loses moisture with age.
👄 How to Eat
Simple as peeling off the outer skin and enjoying. Serious mandarin eaters can peel off the skin in one piece!
You can also enjoy them in salads, so much better than those canned mandarin people like to use. You could juice them if you like.
🍊 Different Types
I did not know at first that there are actually different cultivars of Satsuma mandarins. At a farmer's market in California I found Owari and Okitus Wase. I found out that Brown Select is an earlier ripening variety. Owari seems to be the widest grown cultivar.
Is there a difference? I didn't notice any significant difference in flavor. It more comes down to ripening time of the fruit and how the trees grow.
❓ Different from Clementines?
While both varieties are available around the same time and are just as easy to peel and use, the difference you will find in Satsumas is all in the flavor. Satsumas are bursting with it. The hint of tart lemon I find in them really hits gets my taste buds excited.
Clementine do generally tend to be sweeter but often I find that they are lacking in flavor. The consistent quality is not there. But I have had had good Clementines before too, just I feel like with the Satsumas that flavor is good more often than not.
🔎 Other Varieties to Try
Let's give you a list of other types of citrus you search out for:
Have you ever had a Satsuma mandarin? Where did you buy them at? What do you think of them? We want to hear from you in the comments section below.