Why this year's mandarin oranges aren't so tasty (and how to pick the perfect one)

This year, some mandarins have been duds thanks to extreme weather in Asia ranging from hot summers to typhoons.

This holiday treat is best enjoyed after the first week of November

How do you pick the perfect mandarin orange? (Shiral Tobin)

Slowly unwrapping that crinkly, green paper to enjoy a mandarin orange is a quintessential winter holiday experience. But sometimes that sweet, citrus treat is spoiled by being overly dry or flavourless.

This year, some mandarins have been duds thanks to extreme weather in Asia ranging from hot summers to typhoons.

"Rain and oranges don't go together," said Walt Breeden, vice president of sales for the Oppenheimer Group — one of North America's biggest produce distributors — in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday.

Breeden said Canada's fondness for enjoying mandarin oranges over the holidays originally came from Japanese Canadians.

"They were here working on the railway and they wanted something from their homeland, so they arranged to have them come," he said.

"I think all of us remember your first running down the stairs Christmas morning and there at the bottom of your stocking was a nice wrapped mandarin orange."

It's also a popular treat for Chinese New Year as it's considered a traditional symbol of good fortune.

December's the time to buy

Breeden's company has been importing Japanese oranges since 1896, when the fruit was still shipped in wooden boxes, but he said although he's biased toward the Japanese oranges, mandarins from China are the same variety, although the skin might be slightly different. 

Oranges first start popping up for sale in October, but savvy consumers will want to hold out until after the first week of November.

"There's always somebody that wants to rush the oranges to market," Breeden told the Eyeopener.

"When a mandarin is green, you can harvest it, and you can ripen it like a banana to bring it in earlier."

Green oranges and green bananas are sprayed with ethylene gas — a natural hormone fruit gives off as it ages — to make them ripen sooner. 

Breeden said it doesn't necessarily mean the flavour won't be good, but the skin will be more yellow than orange.

He also shared his tips for selecting the perfect fruit.

"You want to pick one with the skin quite tight to it, the thinner the skin, the sweeter the orange is going to be," he said.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener