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Last Updated: Monday, 26 December 2005, 10:06 GMT
Why are tangerines so hard to find?
The Magazine answers...

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They used to be an essential part of any Christmas, but tangerines are no longer available in many supermarkets. Why?

For most of the nation, tangerines are associated with a Christmas stocking.

The orange citrus fruit was traditionally found nestled there with no more than some nuts and a few chocolate coins - if you were lucky - so their discovery was sometimes tinged with disappointment.

But the frustration these days is when asking for tangerines while shopping in one of the major supermarkets. The chances are that the reply will be they are not stocked. So why have they disappeared?

It all comes down to fashion and names, according to fruit buyers for the big supermarkets. Tangerine is the old name for mandarin, which is a generic term for the citrus fruit of several trees. The name started to be phased out in the 1960s, in favour of its more exotic-sounding alternative.


"Tangerine was always a more American name," says a spokeswoman for Waitrose. "In the fruit industry that name hasn't been used since the 1960s."

According to Tesco, there is only one type of actual tangerine. It is called the honey tangerine but has a lot of seeds so has been muscled out of the citrus fruit market by newer varieties of mandarin, such as satsumas and clementines.

"The newer varieties are easier to peel and have fewer seeds, so consumers prefer them," says a spokeswoman for Tesco.

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But other food suppliers claim there is more than one type, citing the Dancy and Fairchild varieties.

The confusion can be explained by the word tangerine meaning different things in the US and UK. In the US the name refers to dark-coloured kinds of mandarin, while in Britain the name was used for the old-fashioned Mediterranean variety.

The origins of the fruit are much easier to grasp. Tangerine trees were grown extensively in China and Japan before being introduced to Europe and then America.

In China tangerines are a symbol of happiness and prosperity and are given at weddings and at the Lunar New Year, preferably with a couple of leaves still attached.

Popular as the fruit is in the UK, another generation of Brits are facing the same problem as those brought up on tangerines, with the satsuma under threat.


Britain is the world's biggest importer of satsumas but because their popularity is waning in other countries growers are considering more profitable options. Over the last 10 years production has fallen and there are now less than a third of the satsuma orchards there were in 1994.

In a bid to save the fruit for future generations Tesco is mounting a Save Our Satsumas campaign. It is speaking to its suppliers to ask them to continue growing satsumas and explain their huge popularity with UK shoppers.

"Satsumas have come as a godsend to parents through the ages who often struggle to get their children to eat enough fruit," says Tesco produce category manager Tim Lee.

"For that reason satsumas are one of the first fruits parents will introduce to their children so kids have fond memories of them."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

The biggest change I have noticed is not the move from tangerines to mandarins or satsumas but the year-round availability of such fruit. I remember as a child in the 60's & 70's seeing the arrival of satsumas on the supermarket shelves as one of the first signs that Christmas was approaching.
Jim, Slough, UK

I am working in Tbilisi Georgia and the amount of tangerines here is phenomenal,they are sold in markets and even at small stalls at the side off the road and garages when you stop for fuel. They are small sweet and tasty and totally natural. They grow in profusion everywhere.
Alan Matthews, Johnstone,Renfrewshire,Scotland.

As I reached down and felt inside my pillow case at the foot of the bed, I was so glad to feel the roundness of the clementine, to bring back all those memories of old. Thanks Father Christmas, you never seem to let me down!
Les Woods of Lincoln, Lincoln/UK

The Honey tangerine comes from Brasil and Some parts of South America. Rio de Janeiro is famous for them. It has a thin skin, is easier to peel and is very sweet. I love them and buy them whenever I can. The super markets would do well to wise up on fruit generaly as fruit is often unripe when sold in our supermarkets.
John Franklin, Wootton

Well, now at least I understand why I am always arguing with my partner about tangerines that she insists are "mandarins" or "clementines" in English. I've never heard them referred to that way in the US.
Kevin Lossner, Hohen Neuendorf, Germany

I don't care if they're called tangerines, clementines, satsumas or george, the important things for me with these little orange fruits is a) that they're sweet b) that they have few or no pips and c) that they can be cleanly peeled in one move. My kids have been eating them by the truck load this winter.
Dougie Lawson, Basingstoke, UK

I have a Mandarin tree and for the first time in the 3 yrs I have lived here it has had a bumper crop on it!!! Mine have seeds in but barbadians love their fruit at Christmas so now my tree is bare - ready for fertilizing for next year. Farming is my business so this tree really has come up trumps for me this year. I moved here from Macclesfield in Cheshire for a quiet life but things are more hectic than ever. I grow lemons, limes, mandarins, oranges, grapefruits, guavas, shaddocks, mangoes, bananas and plantains and keep black-bellied sheep and goats not bad for an ex-pharmaceutical worker!!
Sue Barker, Horse Hill St Joseph, Barbados West Indies

Me and my 2 sisters used to get a tangerine and an apple in our santa stockings every Christmas and we always put them back into the fruitbowl. I always wondered why Santa / my parents put them in. Now I put them in my 3 children's stockings and they also do the same as I did.
steve pearson, sunderland

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