Friday, September 18, 2009

Boxes of Christmas mandarin oranges are beginning earlier every season with growers and supermarkets trying to capitalize on the consumers demand for these tasty fruits.

At the beginning of the season, oranges are sour because growers pick the fruit too early. In a fruit belt, a grower either wants to be one of the first growers to harvest in the south or the last in the north, to get the highest prices; being early is usually better. Harvesting during peak season brings the lowest prices.

Mandarin oranges should be available now in your local supermarket but I would wait 2 weeks before buying your first box (early October).

Remember, as the harvest moves northward there will be a constant supply of sour fruit until the end of October. We're looking for mature sweet fruit that has been left on the trees to ripen properly from quality growers that take pride in what they grow. To ensure you get exactly what you're paying for here are a few buying tips to help you on your way...

Inspect the box to ensure the fruit is at least 80% orange in color. If the box is taped shut, look through the slats in the side of the box or ask a Produce Clerk if you can open the box and check.

At the beginning of the season, smaller oranges will be sweeter. Sampling is best if you're able.

Remember the brand name (label) of the box. As in any business, there are discount brands and premium brands. Discount brands will sell whatever's available at the cheapest price which works in our favor during peak season (December) when practically all oranges are sweet.

If you've ever wondered why one brand of fruit is more expensive than the other, it's often because the cheaper brand contains smaller fruit. Large fruit commands higher prices, usually possesses more flavor, less peel, more actual fruit per pound and they make great adult sized portions.

Check for wetness on the bottom of the box, wet paper wrappers that envelope the fruit and for mold which is very common to find in a box that has travelled thousands of miles on a ship. To check for mold pick up the box and drop it lightly from about 8 inches in the air, a puff of green mold dust will appear if the box contains bad fruit.

Many distributors today have the fruit shipped to North America in bulk containers and then they inspect, wrap, and box the fruit here. This avoids so many quality problems and creates jobs here where they're needed. This may also mean paying a little more at the checkout but isn't it worth it knowing we're supporting U.S. and Canadian workers?

Japanese mandarins at one time were the cream of the crop but as technology and growing methods have improved worldwide, that is no longer the case. Chinese mandarins are the same quality and often better. Production costs are much higher in Japan where the standard of living is well beyond the means of an average chinese worker. This is also a major contributing factor to the higher retail.

In the east, Moroccan and Spainish clementine oranges are widely available and very inexpensive and popular at Christmas. One of my favorites, it's too bad consumers in the west rarely get to taste this excellent fruit. The cost to truck these from the East Coast to the west makes these uncompetitive. The fruit is typically smaller but will have a flavor you will enjoy immensely.

Moroccan & Spanish clementines are usually sold in a small wooden crate with a netted top. Easy to inspect and almost never sour.

California also produces an excellent clementine today, but the sweetness can be very inconsistent. Growers pick fruit early to fill demand, and nothing turns me off more than buying a brand 3 times and 2/3 times its sour. With easy Brix (sugar) testing in the orchards today there's no reason why a company should sabotage their brand by shipping sour fruit.

I've posted a video of a packing facility in Japan to give you an idea of what is involved to prepare oranges for market.



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