Mandarins. What’s not to love about these lunchbox favourites? Sweet, juicy and easy-to-peel the humble mandarin will give you the boost of energy you need this afternoon.
How to buy mandarins
With the mandarin season starting as early as April and continuing through to about August, fresh mandarins are available for most of winter. Choose heavy, plump fruit, with unblemished skin. Any bruises or cuts will turn the delicate flesh sour. The fruit does not ripen after it has been picked, so look for mandarins with bright orange skins and no trace of green.
How to grow mandarins
Mandarins are prized for their sweet, fresh scent, and in East Asian countries they are often grown near doorways to let the wind direct this aroma through the house. The trees grow best in temperate areas, but can also tolerate dry, drought conditions. The broad-leafed bushes are not very wind tolerant, so need sheltered spots in a sunny garden. Like all citrus, the trees need regular fertilising. Pruning isn’t usually necessary, though a light trim of any dead or diseased branches throughout the year can be helpful.
Even the smallest of houses can have a mandarin tree growing. Dark green and beautiful, these trees grow successfully in planters or pots. Just keep the pot in a sunny position on a balcony or deck, and feed a complete fertiliser regularly to encourage rapid leaf and fruit growth.
How to store mandarins
Mandarins will stay fresh at room temperature for about one week, but can be stored in the fridge for a few days if the weather is humid. Due to their waxy skin, mandarins do not need any plastic packaging. Mandarin segments can also be peeled and kept in an airtight container in the freezer. But beware – the frozen fruit will lose its flavour and texture, so it’s best to use in baking or desserts. Ideally, for long-term storage, mandarins can be bottled whole or in segments in a sweet liqueur or vodka.
Reduce the waste of mandarins
Mandarins are best eaten fresh, so it’s a good idea to buy small amounts of the fruit often. The fruit will not last on the tree either, as it dries out and is attacked by sap-sucking insects. If you find yourself with too many mandarins from a large tree, share them around the neighbourhood, eat them quickly, preserve as marmalade, or freeze the flesh for later use.
Cooking with mandarins
Mandarins are nearly always eaten fresh and raw, as the delicate flesh tend to lose its scent and sweetness with the heat of cooking. The loose, puffy skin can be dried and used in Chinese cooking as a flavouring. It’s particularly good in tea – just include a couple of sun-dried mandarin peels in the pot with the tea and let it steep for a delicious, warming beverage. The segments of the flesh can be added to salads, fresh fruit desserts, or a range of breakfast dishes.
Fresh mandarins are best paired with subtly flavoured foods that don’t overpower the sweet citrus flavours – think foods such as avocado, seafoods, rind-ripened cheeses, cream cheeses or mascarpone. Mandarins will also work extremely well with other citrus fruits, chilli and spices.