Ultra sweet, easy to peel, usually seedless, and cute—those darling clementines! A cross between a sweet orange and a Chinese mandarin orange, clementines pack a ton of flavor and nutrition into one tidy package.
Some historians trace clementines to an Algerian monk, father Clement Rodir, who tended his mandarin garden and discovered the mutation in a fruit tree, which he called "clementino." Others trace the clementine to Asia and migration to the Mediterranean.
Because they could be peeled so easily—while wearing kid gloves, it’s said—clementines earned the names "kid glove oranges" and "zipper oranges." They're also affectionately called "Christmas oranges" because of their availability during the holiday season (they do make perfect stocking stuffers and additions to gift baskets and lunch boxes any time of year!).
Spain—with 161,000 acres dedicated to clementine cultivation— is the world's largest exporter of the succulent fruit. North Africa and China are also big producers. In the United States, clementines are grown in California and Florida. Clementines didn't become popular in the States until 1997, though, when a Florida freeze made other oranges unavailable.
In addition to being a sweet source of antioxidants, clementines are a very good source of vitamin C and a good source of folate, dietary fiber, thiamin and potassium.
Popular varieties of clementines include:
- Fina (or Fine) is a small, aromatic Spanish variety, with smooth skin and an intense orange color.
- Clemenules or Nules are a popular, easy-to-peel, sweet clementine. They're a mutation of Fina and are a little larger. Nules have an especially juicy pulp and a flattened shape.
- Oroval clementines are slightly larger than average and an early producer.
- Monreals clementines are one of the sweetest and easiest to peel of the clementines. They ripen early in the fall.
- The Nadorcott is more tart than other clementines, with a bright red-orange color and thinner peel.
By the way, "Cuties" and "Halos" are a brand names of seedless mandarins. Grown in California, they're available mid-November through January, making them a festive fruit.
Eat clementines out of hand (the fact that they peel easily is a bonus), but also add them to salads, like this Coconut Tangerine Salad (enjoy the color as well as the flavor combo).
Clementines are lovely in fruit salads, too, as well as compotes and even salsa. They'd be a terrific choice in this recipe for Rice and Beans with Orange Kiwi Salsa, for example.
Enliven a seafood or poultry dish with clementine slices or sauce, stir some into your yogurt or cottage cheese, and juice a batch for a refreshing, nourishing beverage.
Feta and goat cheese partner especially well with clementines, as do fennel, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mint.
Spanish varieties are available from November to March, with best availability in December and January. California varieties are available from mid-November through January (these are the "Christmas oranges").
Clementines should be heavy for their size and bright orange (not pale yellow). Look for fruit with no spotting, shriveling or white patches. The skin should be firm, but it should also have a slight give. Keep in mind that the smaller specimens are sweeter than the larger ones. Take a sniff; the fragrance should be sweet, not fermented or musty.
Store clementines in a cool but not refrigerated location, away from direct sunlight. Keep them out of plastic while storing.