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Is a Clementine Just a Tiny Orange?

A group of oranges and clementines sit on a counter.

If you’re anything like us, you’ve grabbed a pack of small oranges at the store, only to get home and realize they’re clementines. Hey, they’re still delicious, so it’s no big, but how are clementines different from oranges?

It’s true that clementines look just like adorable, tiny oranges. However, they are different. The biggest differences you’ll notice are in their flavor and skin.

Clementines are sweeter than navel oranges, but the difference you’ve probably noticed most is how each peels. Oranges have a thicker skin that can be difficult to get started when peeling.

Clementines, on the other hand, have thinner skins that make them easier to peel. That’s why they’re often sold in bunches and marketed as great lunch box-ready fruits (Cuties are actually clementines). You’ll be able to easily peel and eat them straight from the skin.

What causes these differences, though? While navel oranges and clementines are both citrus fruits, they’re different varieties. Both are hybrid fruits, but their combinations are different. Oranges are a combination of pomelos and mandarins (also known as tangerines) while clementines are mixtures of mandarins and sweet oranges.

People have been enjoying oranges, most likely, since before 314 B.C., when they were mentioned in a Chinese text. The popular fruit was also mentioned in 10th-century European literature.

Clementines, however, are much newer. The most widely accepted story of their origin is that they were created in 1902 by a French missionary named Father Clément Rodier (although some sources say they came from China).

So, next time you’re in the produce aisle, check those labels if you’re buying oranges or clementines. After all, if you’re planning to make a delicious orange dessert, clementines, cute as they are, just aren’t going to work.

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