At first glance, a mandarin orange and a tangerine look similar. Both are orange in color, grow on trees, are similar in taste and appearance, and are varieties of citrus fruit. To the untrained eye and palate, it can be confusing, but there are differences that allow you to tell them apart. Once you've learned the characteristics of the mandarin orange and the tangerine, you'll never be fooled again.
Mandarin oranges and tangerines are both members of the citrus family known as Rutaceae and resemble small oranges. Mandarins and tangerines are both technically mandarins, but the tangerine is a variety in the subgroup of the mandarin family and varies from the mandarin its characteristics. Therefore, all tangerines are considered mandarins, but not all mandarins are classed as tangerines.
Shape, Skin and Color
The tangerine has a reddish-orange color and is noticeably darker than the mandarin. Mandarins have a lighter orange hue that is not as intense. The mandarin orange has a smoother, thinner skin when compared with the tangerine, which is pebbly and thicker skinned. The mandarin orange is oblate in shape with a somewhat squashed appearance, while the tangerine is rounder and more spherical. The mandarin is more tender than the tangerine and more easily bruised. The tangerine is tougher and hardier when it comes to shipping and survival of colder temperatures.
Mandarin oranges have a gentler, sweeter taste, while the tangerine is a bit more tart. Both are less tart than a regular orange. Mandarin oranges, often sold already peeled in cans or jars, are frequently used in fruit salads, lettuce salads and cakes, while tangerines are often used in cooked duck and chicken dishes.
The mandarin orange was named because of the way their rich orange color matched the robes of the Mandarin Chinese and because they were a delicacy for the upper classes in that society. Tangerines are believed to have been named because they arrived through the shipping route via Tangiers.