I know that the words "tangerine" and "mandarin" are quite interchangeable in common practice. Which one is more frequently used? How do you usually name this fruit in everyday life?

I asked this question, because in Russia we do not make much difference between tangerines and mandarins which are slightly different from each other; we call them both mandarins.


On tangerines and mandarins, clementines and satsumas

When discussing words used “in common practice” by a speech community comprising on the order of a billion speakers (~40% L1 + ~60% L2) distributed across the entire planet, sweeping generalities of usage are next to impossible.

Technical usage by scientists recognizes all of these things as various species and cultivars under the Citrus genus, but when they do so they use taxonomic binomials bearing little to no relationship to the words commonly used by these fruit. And even at the technical level, citrus taxonomy is confusing.

When used as a commonplace marketing term, words like tangerine and mandarin have no technical meaning, especially not one that is recognized across all corporations everywhere.

  • I have seen the very same fruit marketed by one company under one name but by another company under another.
  • I have seen quite different common names for them in America as in Australia, and I have seen common names shift over time.
  • It is the people who live in areas where these fruit are grown who are the most likely to make fine distinctions between them, distinctions that are either lost or at least unrecognized by people who live in colder climes.
  • I have seen residents of citrus-producing regions argue passionately about whether the clementine is larger, sweeter, and juicier than the mandarin, or whether the opposite relationship holds — and then when a sample specimen is presented them, each party in that dispute calls that fruit by a different name. *I have heard others argue that a mandarin must automatically “be” an orange not a tangerine because of the historic collocation mandarin orange.

Wikipedia reports in their article on the tangerine:

The name was first used for fruit coming from Tangier, Morocco, described as a mandarin variety.[2] Under the Tanaka classification system, Citrus tangerina is considered a separate species. Under the Swingle system, tangerines are considered to be a group of mandarin (C. reticulata) varieties.[3] While tangerines genetically resemble mandarins,[3] the genetics are still not thoroughly studied.[dubious – discuss][4][5][6] The term is currently applied to any reddish-orange mandarin[citation needed] (and, in some jurisdictions, mandarin-like hybrids, including some tangors[7][8]), but the term "tangerine" may yet acquire a definite genetic meaning.

In the United States, the “tangerine group” (non-oranges) have taken off in recent years, so people are finally starting to notice them. However, not everybody calls them the same thing. My nieces call the little ones cuties to mirror a brand name. That said, I don’t think they’ve ever tried a kumquat, which gives me a delightful idea for a Christmas stocking stuffer!

  • So I used to be one of those folks that thought there was a difference, but the manager of our local grocery store's produce department says that Cuties (labelled clementines) and Halos (labelled mandarins) are all just "small California oranges". They have the same growing season and any differences in flavor or size are just due to differences in the soil and climate where they're grown.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 7 '17 at 12:47

They are not really interchangeable terms. Tangerines are a type of mandarin orange, of which the clementine is a well-known and widely available cultivar.

Tangerine trees (Citrus tangerina) are a type of mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata), their loose skin, easily pulled away from the fruit, and the sweet segments within make them a delicious treat. In the United States, the ‘Clementine’ is the most familiar of the species and is readily available in grocery stores.

Gardening Know How

  • 4
    The distinctions are are important to those who understand the technicalities. I'm not sure that many people presented with a small orange fruit would be able to confidently identify it. I suspect that I'm not alone in using the terms interchangeably.
    – djna
    Dec 16 '16 at 11:19
  • You may be right, but in UK supermarkets, mandarins, tangerines and clementines are often available in the same store, although some are seasonal. Clemenules and Nadorcotts are also available. These small, easy to peel oranges have largely displaced the traditional round oranges.
    – Mick
    Dec 16 '16 at 11:50
  • Yes, they are lovely, eat lots of them. Just never pay attention to which specific types I've got in the fruit basket at home.
    – djna
    Dec 16 '16 at 11:52
  • 1
    Tangerines are a cross of mandarins and oranges and are larger and sweeter than the typical mandarin. I don't care for mandarins but I do like clementines, so there is a significant difference.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 16 '16 at 14:23
  • I would say if the person doesn't know the difference between the specific varieties, they're most likely to call all of them just "oranges" rather than use a specific name. Other names like Tangerine and Mandarin will be used relatively arbitrarily. If they do know the actual differences then the person will likely just call them whatever the actual specific name is.
    – Aiaimai
    Dec 16 '16 at 15:58

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