Tangerines vs. Oranges, Explained

By Erin Marissa Russell

Most of us have a general idea of the distinction between oranges and tangerines. Both are in the citrus family and are common at the grocery store. Oranges are a broad category of tree fruits that includes several varieties of oranges including navel oranges as well as blood oranges, Valencia oranges, mandarins, clementines, tangerines, and satsuma mandarins. Oranges are an extremely popular citrus fruit.

“Tangerine” is a term used to refer to some members of the mandarin orange family. Specifically, tangerines are related to the Chinese mandarin orange varieties. That means that while all tangerines are mandarin oranges, not all varieties of mandarin oranges are tangerines.

While mandarins are a type of orange that are relatively easy to peel, the term “tangerine” has especially been used to refer to those mandarins that have a reddish-orange skin. However, there’s a chance that you will find tangerines being sold under the label of mandarin oranges and vice versa.

In truth, there are many different facets we can use to compare these two types of citrus fruits and learn more about them. In this article, we’ll especially delve into the difference between tangerines and oranges when it comes to botany, appearance, flavor, and nutritional content.

Tangerines vs Oranges: Botany

  • Both oranges and tangerines are members of the citrus fruit family, a group of fruits that come from trees that are flowering rue plants from the family Rutaceae.
  • Fruits we call oranges are the result of hybrids between pomelos and mandarins. However, the fruits we call the tangerine are hybrids between different types of mandarins. That means while orange fruits like the navel orange or blood orange will have a pomelo as an ancestor, tangerines only have mandarin ancestors.
  • Both oranges and tangerines are commercially produced all year round, with different varieties sometimes available at different times of year. Tangerines are “in peak season” and taste their best in the period between late October and January. Oranges are “in season” and have the best flavor in the period between November and March. However, outliers in each category may have a different period that they’re at their peak season. 
  • While oranges originated from Asia (specifically from south China and Indonesia), the origins of tangerines is the the United States, more specifically in Florida in the 1800s.
partially peeled tangerine
Tangerines are smaller fruits and the peel of tangerines is thinner.
navel oranges, with one cut in half
These are naval oranges. Notice the thicker peel and larger size.

Tangerines vs Oranges: Appearance

  • Oranges, including the blood orange and navel orange tend to be larger than tangerines, which are often small enough to be tucked into a pocket as a portable snack. The smaller size of tangerines leads to them occasionally being referred to by the moniker baby oranges.
  • While oranges tend to be more perfectly round, tangerines have a less perfectly rounded, squatter shape that is somewhat flattened on the top and bottom.
  • Regular oranges have a bright orange color and tougher skins that hold tighter to the fruit’s flesh, while the tangerine fruit has loose skin. This makes the tangerine easier to peel than the orange. The tangerine’s thin skin also tends to be softer, with more “give” than the skin of an orange. This softness is simply a result of the tangerine’s natural traits and does not indicate that the fruit has spoiled.
  • Tangerines and oranges have a textural difference to their flesh as well. While ripe oranges tend to become heavy and firm, tangerines will become softer as they get more and more ripe.
  • There are types of oranges that have seeds and varieties that are seedless, and the same is true for tangerine varieties —you’ll find both seeded and seedless varieties in both these categories.
  • We’ve already mentioned, that tangerines have a more red-orange skin than the standard orange. However, the distinction in color isn’t limited to just the skin. The flesh of an orange tends to be a more yellow-orange hue, while tangerines tend toward a more red-orange flesh to go along with their darker skin.

Tangerine vs Orange: Flavor

  • Both tangerines and oranges share the same basic taste: the characteristic sweet-tart, juicy flavor of citrus fruits.
  • The tangerine’s flavor tends to be just a bit sweeter than the orange’s flavor, though both fruits have a sweet taste.
  • Oranges are a bit more acidic than tangerines. The average pH level of an orange is between 2.4 and 3.0. 
  • In general, tangerines have a stronger citrus flavor than an orange does, so tangerines are considered more flavorful than oranges.
  • Although eating either fruit will result in a citrus aftertaste, the aftertaste from eating a tangerine is shorter than the aftertaste from eating an orange.

Tangerines vs Oranges: Nutrition

  • Overall, the nutrition content of a tangerine is very similar to that of an orange. 
  • Oranges contain a higher amount of vitamin C than tangerines, with 89 percent of the recommended daily value as compared to the tangerine’s 44 percent vitamin C. Both are a good source of vitamin C.
  • Oranges have a bit more soluble dietary fiber than tangerines, providing 2.4 grams as compared to the tangerine’s 1.8 grams and almost no fat.
  • Tangerines have just slightly more calories than an orange, with tangerines containing 53 calories per serving while a serving of oranges has 47 calories.
  • Tangerines also have a bit higher carbohydrate count than an orange, with a tangerine holding 13.3 grams of carbs while oranges hold 11.7 grams of carbs.
  • Tangerines offer 10 percent more of the recommended daily value of vitamin A than oranges, with 14 percent as compared to the four percent an orange provides.
  • Both tangerines and oranges contain five percent of a person’s recommended daily value of potassium.

While at first glance tangerines and oranges may seem to be almost identical, as you can see the truth is that they have many different small areas of distinction. And now that you’ve learned about how tangerines and oranges differ when it comes to their botany, appearance, taste, and nutrition, you’ll know just when to use each of these types of citrus fruit.

tangerine tree and orange tree with text overlay tangerines vs oranges differences explained

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