Clementines vs Mandarins – What is the Difference? 

Similar in appearance, both Clementines and Mandarins are popular citrus fruits. Smaller versions of the  larger orange, these two compact fruits are smaller, sweeter and easier to peel. But what is the real difference between clementines vs mandarins?

So alike that they are often confused, the question of whether small orange fruits are clementines vs mandarins can be difficult to answer. This article will guide you through the key differences and similarities between the clementine and mandarin.

1 Clementines vs Mandarins
When comparing clementines vs mandarins you notice that both fruits are similar in appearance.

Clementines vs Mandarins: The Botany Behind the Fruit

Both the clementine and mandarin are citrus fruits.

The mandarin has the botanical name Citrus Reticulata. The latter word, Reticulata, is Latin and refers to the net-like pattern made by the fruits pith. The pith is the spongy white portion that sits between the rind and the flesh of the fruit.

A type of tangerine, the Mandarin is one of the earliest citrus fruits. It is an ancestor to many of the other citrus varieties that are native to Southeast Asia.

2 Clementines are a type of Mandarin
The clementine is a type of mandarin.

The clementine (Citrus Reticulata Clementine) is actually a type of mandarin. The fruits are hybrids, a product of crossing the Chinese or willow-leaf mandarin with the sweet orange.

Legend has it that a monk named Father Clement Rodier discovered the clementine whilst living in Algeria. Whilst the fruit still bears his name, many experts believe that the clementine is an older fruit which is native to China. From there the plants were spread, mainly along the trader routes, throughout the Mediterranean.

So while all clementines are mandarins, not all mandarin fruits are clementines. Now that we have established that the two fruits are different, it is time to compare clementines vs mandarins more fully.

What is a Mandarin?

A mandarin is similar to a standard orange but smaller and less spherical with a pebbly skin.

Native to China, today the Chinese are the largest global producer of the fruit, harvesting over 12 million tons every year.

3 Mandarins are not fully round
The mandarin is not entirely spherical.

Sweeter than an orange, but not as sweet as the tangy clementine, the mandarin can be eaten as a fresh snack or used in salads, deserts and main courses. The fruits can also be juiced.

The peel of the mandarin is often used in baking, as a spice or candied. It is also a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. The fragrant fruits are also a popular essential oil. Mandarin essential oils can be used in both skincare products and perfumes.

The mandarin plant is a short, woody evergreen specimen that is a native to many Asian and Chinese forests. Once established the trees are surprisingly drought tolerant.

Mandarin plants can be grown from seed or tissue culture. The plants can also be propagated by grafting.

While some seedless varieties can be found, the fruit of most types of mandarin contain seeds.

Mandarin Growing Tips

Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11 the mandarin tree is best planted in well draining soil in a sunny spot. Ideally they should receive 6 to 8 hours of direct or indirect light each day. Growers in cooler climates can plant their mandarin plants in pots and grow undercover in a greenhouse.

4 Mandarin tree likes light
Mandarin trees like lots of light. 

Ideally the temperature around the plants should range from 40 to 90 ℉. While mandarin plants can tolerate exposure to temperatures as low as 20 ℉, try to keep them warmer than this. Exposure to too much cold weather can damage or even kill the mandarin tree.

The Mandarin can grow to a height of 25 ft. Better suited for smaller gardens, semi-dwarf varieties typically reach a height of 8 to 10 ft. This makes the mandarin good indoor fruit tree choices.

Water the plants once a week, with an aim to keep the soil moist. Plants growing in containers or warmer climates may require more frequent watering.

A citrus plant appropriate fertilizer, such as Jobes Organic Fertilizer Spikes, that is rich in micronutrients such as zinc, iron, copper and magnesium should also be applied regularly during the spring and summer months.

What is a Clementine?

Smaller and easier to peel than the mandarin, the clementine is typically deep orange in color and has a smooth or glossy skin. Naturally sweet and juicy, the fruits contain less acid than other oranges and citrus fruits.

A hybrid fruit, unlike the mandarin, the clementine is seedless. This means that unlike the mandarin, the fruit of the clementine is sterile. To propagate a clementine tree requires the grafting of two parent plants.

Most clementine plants require cross pollination, either naturally by pollinators such as bees or by hand with the help of a Pollination Tool, to set fruit. An exception to this are Monreal types. These contain seeds and are able to self-pollinate.

The clementine doesn’t need as much heat to flower, set fruit and ripen as many other citrus plants. Additionally, unlike many citrus plants, they fruit in late fall or winter.
The clementine can be divided into a number of segments, usually between 7 and 14.

5 Clementines and Mandarins easy to peel
Easy to peel, the clementine can be divided into a number of segments.

Clementine trees grow in many Mediterranean countries including Algeria, Greece, Israel, Lebanon and Morocco. The fruits are also cultivated in Iran, Turkey, Spain and Portugal.

Popular varieties include Spanish and Nadorcott, which is popular for its bright red-orange color. The thin peel is less sweet and more bitter or tart than Spanish varieties.

As well as clementines, satsumas and tangerines are also types of mandarin.

Clementine Growing Tips

Best planted in a warm full sun position clementine trees do best in well draining soil. Like the larger orange tree, if you have the space you can also grow the clementine indoors.

Water the plants once a week during the summer, reducing to once every three weeks in the fall and winter. Hardy down to 32 ℉, in cooler climates the plants are best kept undercover during the winter months. Placing the pots on a Metal Plant Caddy enables you to move the plants outside to enjoy the spring and summer.

Growers in USDA Zones 8 to 12 may be able to cultivate their clementine trees outside all year round as long as their growing position doesn’t experience hard frosts.

Clementine trees can grow to a height of 8 to 12 ft and spread up to 6 ft wide. Regular pruning helps to contain this spread as does planting in a pot.

Clementines vs Mandarins: Physical Differences

Orange in color, the mandarin is darker in color than the skin of the orange. They are also easier to peel because the skin is looser. Clementines also have loose skin and are even easier to peel. For this reason they are often called ‘zipper oranges’ or ‘kid glove oranges’.

The clementine is smaller than the mandarin. Both are round in shape and slightly flat on the top and bottom.

Once unpeeled both fruits separate into segments. It is easier to separate both the mandarin and clementine than the larger orange.

6 Clementines Mandarins easy to segment
Both fruits split into easy to eat segments.  

Clementines vs Mandarins: Nutritional Differences

Clementines and Mandarins have similar nutritional values.

The clementine contains slightly more vitamin C than the mandarin. A typical cleminite contains 36 mg of the vitamin, which amounts to around 40% of the recommended daily value. Mandarin fruits contain around 20 milligrams or 26% of your recommended daily value.

The mandarin is rich in vitamin A. Interestingly this is a vitamin which is lacking entirely from the clementine. In fact a typical mandarin contains around 17% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A in the form of carotenoids.

Both fruits have negligible amounts of fat and protein. While a typical clementine contains around 35 calories, mandarins contain around 40 calories. Both fruits provide 9 to 10 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of which comes from fiber.

While the mandarin has around 12 micrograms of vitamin B, a typical clementine contains around 18 micrograms.

Clementines and mandarins also contain flavonoids and phenols. These have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer.

Finally, both fruits contain trace amounts of iron, magnesium, folic acid, calcium and vitamin E.

Clementines vs Mandarins: Cultural Significance

Both fruits play a significant role in cultural celebrations.

In Chinese culture the mandarin is a traditional symbol of abundance and good fortune. Like the Chinese Money Plant, the mandarin is a popular gift during Chinese New Year.

Ripening at the end of the year, Clementines are a popular Christmas fruit and gift in many parts of Europe as well as Japan, the United States, Canada and Russia.

7 Clementines vs Mandarins similarities

Similar in appearance, it is easy to learn the differences between clementines vs mandarins.

Popular citrus fruits both clementines and mandarins share many similarities. Small, sweet and easy to peel, once you understand the key differences between the two fruits it is easy to tell them apart.

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