Among the sunny-colored citrus fruits that brighten produce aisles during winter, satsumas hit peak season this month. Part of the mandarin orange family, which also includes tangerines and clementines, satsumas are one of the sweetest citrus varieties, with a meltingly tender texture. Their moderately thick skin peels off readily, and with easy-to-separate segments, they make convenient and healthful out-of-hand snacks.
Typically classed with mandarin oranges in the family of Citrus reticulate (a name that references the netlike, or reticulated, white pith beneath the rind), satsumas are sometimes considered a separate species, Citrus unshiu. "To me, the satsuma belongs in its own category," says Aliza Green, chef and author of Starting With Ingredients. "The mandarin is the big category, which contains all the zipper-skinned [easy-peel] fruits. They probably originated in northeast India but like most citrus fruits were cultivated in China and then brought to the west." Hence the name "mandarin." Satsumas, a Japanese variety named for a former province of that country, were developed in the 16th century and introduced to Florida in 1876. Today most American satsumas are grown in California, followed by coastal Louisiana and Alabama, where mild winters allow the fruit to flourish.
"Satsumas have that perfect balance of sweet and tart, with a rounded flavor and a great acid edge," Green says. "And they just melt in your mouth."
We offer both sweet and savory recipes to showcase this winter delicacy, demonstrating how satsumas enhance beverages, baked goods, sauces, and more.
All in the family
Because of their relatively similar size and appearance, satsumas are often confused with tangerines and clementines, all members of the mandarin orange family. The main difference, says Aliza Green, is what lies inside the satsuma: particularly thin membranes filled to capacity with liquid, which mean less pulp and more of the prized juice.
Selection and storage
One of the first mandarins to hit grocery store shelves in early winter, satsumas are best from October to December. Look for satsumas with firm, tight peels, with no hollow-feeling or dented spots; heavier ones are generally juicier. Seek fruit with fresh-looking, bright green twigs and leaves still attached; this signals careful picking (each stem must be clipped by hand), meticulous handling, and freshness, all indicators of high quality. Store at room temperature or, if you prefer, in the refrigerator (refrigeration may prolong storage but can dry them out). Fresh satsumas are most enjoyable, so use within four or five days.