By: Co+op

For a refreshing, sweet uplift in the midst of winter—or any time, for that matter—reach for a tangerine. Cheerfully orange, surprisingly sweet (especially for a citrus), and easy to peel and section, a tangerine can brighten any day.

Smaller than an orange, with slightly soft, pebbly skin, tangerines have been cultivated for over 3,000 years. They originated in Tangier, Morocco—hence the name—and spread via trade routes throughout Europe. Today tangerines are grown in subtropical regions throughout the world, including the southern United States.

According to some classifications, a tangerine is a variety of Mandarin orange, and there are many closely related fruits that are sold as tangerines. Some are seedless. By the way, a tangelo is a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit or pomelo. It can be used interchangeably with the tangerine in recipes.

Tangerines are an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber and a good source of folate and beta-carotene. They also provide potassium, magnesium, vitamin A and B vitamins.

The earliest tangerines at the market, like the tart and spicy Fairchild, are usually available from mid-October through mid-January. The popular Dancy variety, with a dark red-orange peel and seeds, is available from mid-December through January. The most popular tangerine is the Honey, also known as the Murcott. Super sweet and juicy, it's available January through April. The Royal Mandarin is larger than other tangerines and tastes more like an orange. It has few seeds, if any, and is available from January to mid-March. The Ojai Pixie tangerine, available March through May, is small and very sweet.

Because they're so sweet and easy to prepare, tangerines are perfect for eating out of hand. But they also combine nicely with other fruits and vegetables, like the jicama, pineapple, carrots and green bell peppers in this Tangerine and Jicama Salad. They provide a fresh note in grain and pasta salads, too. In Tangelo Chicken Pasta Salad, for example, the citrus segments brighten and sweeten the dish, while a Dijon/honey dressing highlights the fruit. And tangerines would be delicious subbed for the oranges in this orange kiwi salsa which tops flavorful carribbean rice and beans.

Try tangerines for a delectable juice. Substitute tangerine zest in place of orange in any recipe, too.

Tangerines are at their peak from late fall through spring. Look for specimens that are firm to slightly soft and heavy for their size. They should be deep orange, with no dullness, browning or soft spots on the skin.

They'll stay fresh at room temperature for a couple of days, and in the refrigerator produce drawer they'll last for at least a couple of weeks.