I grew up in Japan, and my hands down favorite citrus fruit was the 蜜柑, the Japanese mikan (pronounced “mee kahn”) tangerine. The rind peels right off like those Levi 501 button fly jeans, and the sweet, seedless flesh tastes oh so yummy. The peel had another bonus feature for teen boys — it squirts orange oil when you squeeze it, so naturally we all thought it hilarious to blind our friends by spraying their eyes with the oil.
I left Japan in 1984 and lamented the nonavailability of the mikan along with some of my other Japanese favorites. What I only discovered in the last couple of years, however, is that mikan has been cultivated in North America since the 1700s! There’s commercial mikan production in the California Central Valley and has been for decades.
What I didn’t know is that these oranges are called satsuma mandarins here in the United States. There are even towns in the U.S. south called “Satsuma” after the Japanese orange groves planted there.
So now I know. We’re at the tail end of mikan production in California now, so the oranges are pretty pricey at $2 and up per pound, and my family can go through 5 lbs of these in about three days. Clementines are similar to satsuma, though the satsuma is larger, is easier to peel and usually (though not always) tastes better.
I became a mikan addict after living in Japan for 2 years in the early 90s. After moving to Sacramento in 1997, I discovered that mandarines are grown nearby in the foothills. And there’s even an annual Mandarine Festival!! It’s this coming weekend in Auburn.
Good to know about that Mandarin festival in Auburn — thanks!