British Columbia·VOTE

Mandarin Idol: Which orange is worthy of citrus stardom?

Mandarin oranges have been an integral part of Canadian Christmas since the late 1800s. But the choice of fruit available today is overwhelming. Which is why we're asking you to help choose a consistent citrus superstar.

Bewildered by a sea of seasonal choices? We want to hear your pick for best holiday orange

Store shelves are full of mandarin oranges this time of year. But how do you know which kind is right for you? (Shiral Tobin)

Is there any simpler Yuletide pleasure than the taste of a good mandarin orange?

Or — for that matter — anything quite as disappointing as inadvertently dipping your hand into the rotten flesh of a mouldy mandarin stubbornly stuck to the bottom of the cardboard box?

Mandarin oranges have been part of Canadian Christmases since the late 1800s. But the sheer volume of choice available in grocery stores during the holiday season today makes settling on a favourite a tough task.

Chinese or Japanese? Korean or Californian? Satsumas, mandarins or clementines? What about tangerines? Organic or non-organic? Big or baby-sized? And that's to say nothing of the pips.

It definitely falls under the heading 'first-world problem' but let's face it, nobody wants to waste money on a box of dry, tasteless oranges.

So with that in mind, we want to hear your nominations for citrus superstar: the mandarin of mandarins, so to speak.

Boxcars painted orange 

But first, a little history.

According to the B.C. Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation, mandarin oranges were first introduced to Canadians in the 1880s by Japanese immigrants who received them from relatives in Japan to celebrate the new year.

Japanese mandarin oranges have been part of Canadian Christmas since the 1880s, which means they appeal to the emotions. (Shiral Tobin)

The tradition grew with commercial importation. The fruit arrived in nine-pound wooden crates, which were then carried across the country by train in boxcars painted orange to herald their arrival.

Mandarin oranges are also a crucial part of Chinese-Canadian lunar New Year celebrations.

Walt Breeden is vice-president of sales at The Oppenheimer Group, the company which first imported Japanese mandarins more than a century ago.

Breeden calls Japanese oranges "the cadillac" of brands. But the fruit many call satsumas are in a tough competition with related, but different varieties from China, Korea and even California. 

"The Japanese has a nice balance between sweet and tart. Chinese mandarins are sweeter, there's not that much of a balance between the two," he says.

"And the California clementines are a little more of a tart-tasting piece of fruit."

Nominate a citrus superstar 

Breeden says between 500 and 600 shipping containers of Chinese mandarins hit the Canadian market each year. And about 200 containers of Japanese oranges arrive during the Christmas season.

More than a dozen companies import the Chinese fruit, whereas Breeden's company is the only one to import product from the Japanese Fruit Growers Cooperative Association.

They import the fruit in bulk and then package it here. Breeden says some companies import mandarins from China pre-packed in cardboard boxes; that can lead to the dreaded presence of rotting fruit.

Generations of Canadians have grown up with mandarin oranges as stocking stuffers. That memory has created a strong emotional bond for many with the original Japanese orange.

But the other products have been on the market long enough to generate their share of memories. Which is why we'd like to hear which orange you think has the best bite for the buck.

Is it an emotional choice? One dictated by flavour? Or by price? Help us pick a citrus superstar.


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