It's no surprise that these tangy little citrus fruits are closely related. A quick glance reveals plenty of similarities, such as both being smaller than a typical orange and having bright skin that is soft and easy to peel. However, these two fruits are not the same thing.
They're both members of the mandarin family, which is the second most cultivated citrus crop after sweet oranges, like navel and blood oranges. These two popular kinds of mandarins make up around 25% of citrus fruits grown around the world. The precise history of citrus domestication, however, is not well understood.
What Is a Clementine?
The clementine (Citrus clementina) is a variety of mandarin, and is sweet and very easy to peel. It tends to be slightly smaller than a tangerine and has smoother, shinier skin. In fact, because its skin is so thin, it's even easier to peel than a tangerine.
Clementines are often more oval-shaped with a flat spot on the top and on the bottom. They're more tolerant of the cold than larger varieties of oranges and are available from November through April in the U.S.
What Is a Tangerine?
It's believed that tangerines (Citrus tangernina) are native to Southeast Asia.
Tangerines have slightly darker skin than clementines, and they can have a more reddish tone and feel more pebbly to the touch. Like clementines, the skin is easy to peel. Since they're similarly cold-tolerant, they're available during the same months — November to April.
What Are the Health Benefits of Clementines and Tangerines?
Since tangerines and clementines are so closely related, they have very similar nutritional value. These fruits offer high amounts of vitamin C even though they have an average size of 100 grams. If maximizing your vitamin C intake is the goal, reach for a clementine over a tangerine; it has slightly higher levels and just two of them provide more than your daily need for the vitamin.
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin that supports your immune system by encouraging the functions of white blood cells, and it is also necessary for other bodily functions including creating collagen to strengthen your skin, joints, and bones, as well as for metabolizing iron.
On top of containing high levels of vitamin C, tangerines and clementines also contain carotenoid compounds. These compounds, which give the fruit its signature orange and yellow color, are converted to vitamin A in your body, and are important for eye and brain health and development.
They're also antioxidants and can protect cells and DNA from certain impacts of oxidative damage.
Other beneficial nutrients and compounds found in both clementines and tangerines are:
- Beta-cryptoxanthin. This is an easily-absorbed carotene that supports immune function, vision, and cell growth.
- Flavonoids. These reduce inflammation, improve blood flow in arteries, increase bone density, and decrease risk of asthma.
- Soluble fiber. This is beneficial for the digestive tract and can reduce cholesterol.
How to Eat Clementines and Tangerines
Fortunately, these delicious little citrus fruits are easy to toss in a bag or bring along as a snack. They're easy to peel, don't require refrigeration, and are great for both kids and adults.
Both clementines and tangerines make a delicious addition to savory dishes, too. Toss them in a salad for a sweet and tangy pop, or slice them up and add them into salsa. The peels — once thoroughly washed — can be zested and added alongside other herbs in pasta or as a seasoning on fish or meat.
Tangerines and clementines can also be juiced or made into jam or marmalade. While these are certainly delicious ways to enjoy either of the sweet little citrus fruits, these preparations decrease the amount of nutrition the fruit provides.
What to Consider When Choosing Between Tangerines and Clementines
Clementines and tangerines are very similar in many ways, especially when it comes to their nutritional profiles. They are high in vitamin C, soluble fiber, carotenoids, and flavonoids — all of which are beneficial to your body in a variety of ways.
Ultimately, there is very little nutritional difference between these two citrus fruits. The main differences are in size and where they are grown.
Either of them will offer great nutritional value in an easy-to-peel and portable format, making them a healthy snack to enjoy during the winter months.