Tangerines vs. Oranges: How Are They Different?

by Kaitlyn Berkheiser, RD, LDN

Tangerines and oranges are citrus fruits that are often confused for one another. They both contain an assortment of nutrients, are relatively sweet in flavor and are generally low in calories. But while tangerines and oranges are closely related, they are actually two separate fruits with some notable differences.

This article explains the key similarities and differences between tangerines and oranges.

They Are From the Same Family

Tangerines and oranges have similar qualities because they are members of the same family. They make look alike, but they are actually two different species of fruit with separate origins and varieties.

Mandarin oranges are winter fruits.

Tangerines

Tangerines were first grown in Palatka, Florida. In the 1800s, they received the name “tangerine” because they were imported through the city of Tangier in Morocco.

Like oranges, tangerines are members of the citrus family, but they are the fruit of the C. tangerina species. Tangerines are often labeled as mandarins, or vice versa, especially in the United States (1).

However, from a botanic standpoint, tangerines refer to a subgroup of mandarins. Most commonly, mandarins that are reddish-orange and brightly colored tend to be labeled as tangerines.

Tangerines are typically in their prime from late October through January.

Halved Oranges

Oranges

Oranges originated many years ago in Asia, most likely in Southern China and Indonesia. Today, the vast majority of oranges are produced in Florida and Sao Paulo, Brazil (2).

They are the fruit of the citrus x sinensis species and are also members of the citrus family (3). Interestingly, oranges are hybrids of two fruits: pomelo and mandarin.

There are many different varieties of oranges. They can be divided into four classes, each with identifying characteristics:

  • Common or round: There are numerous varieties of common oranges, including Valencia, Hamlin and Gardner. The majority of oranges in this class are used for juice production.
  • Navel: Arguably the most common class of orange, this type actually grows a second fruit at the base which resembles a human belly button. Cara cara is a popular type of navel orange.
  • Blood or pigmented: With high concentrations of anthocyanin, a type of antioxidant pigment, blood oranges have a dark red flesh. The rind can sometimes possess darker red spots as well.
  • Acidless or sweet: This class of orange has very low levels of acid. Given their low acid concentration, these oranges are predominantly eaten and not used to make juice.

Peak orange season varies based on the variety. However, most oranges are in their prime from November through March.

They Have Different Appearances

The main distinction between tangerines and oranges is size.

Oranges come in different sizes and slightly different shapes, depending on the variety. However, as a rule of thumb, oranges grow to a larger size than tangerines.

Sometimes referred to as “baby oranges,” tangerines are smaller, somewhat flattened and generally less rounded, making them a perfect pocket-sized snack.

Tangerines are also softer to the touch when ripe, while oranges are usually firm and heavy when ripe.

Both tangerines and oranges range from having many seeds to being seedless, depending on the variety. For example, navel oranges are seedless, while Valencia oranges have seeds.

Lastly, tangerines and oranges can differ in color.

Oranges are typically more yellow-orange, except for the blood orange, which has a dark red color. Although tangerines are similar in color to most orange varieties, they are typically more reddish-orange.

Their Flavors Vary Slightly

The flavors of tangerines and oranges vary, but it depends largely on the variety of each fruit. Both tangerines and oranges can be sweet or tart.

However, most tangerines are less tart and sweeter than oranges. Tangerines also tend to have a stronger flavor profile than oranges and a shorter aftertaste.

One exception to this is the blood orange. Blood oranges have a distinct flavor profile that differs from most varieties of tangerines and oranges.

Blood oranges tend to have a very rich taste that is not overly sweet with a hint of berry-like flavor.

Peeled Tangerine

Tangerines Are Generally Easier to Peel

The rinds of tangerines and oranges is another main difference between the two.

Both tangerines and oranges have a thin skin. However, oranges have a tighter skin and thus are usually more difficult to peel than tangerines.

Most varieties of tangerines have a very thin, loose skin, making it easy to peel. The peel is also pebbled and absent of any deep grooves.

Specifically, many tangerine varieties are known for their “zipper-skin,” meaning once the skin is torn, it slides off easily.

They Have a Very Similar Nutrient Content

A whole tangerine has a high water content (85%), consists mostly of carbs (4% of daily value) and contains almost no fat (4).

Likewise, a whole orange has a high water content (87%), consists mostly of carbs (4% of daily value) and contains almost no fat (5).

The table below compares the nutrition of a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of tangerine to the same serving of orange (45).

Tangerine Orange
Calories 53 47
Carbs 13.3 grams 11.7 grams
Fiber 1.8 grams 2.4 grams
Protein 0.8 grams 0.9 grams
Fat 0.3 grams 0.1 grams
Vitamin A 14% DV 4% DV
Vitamin C 44% DV 89% DV
Folate 4% DV 8% DV
Potassium 5% DV 5% DV

Overall, tangerines and oranges have similar nutrient profiles. However, tangerines tend to have slightly more calories per serving. They also contain a few more grams of carbs.

One notable difference between the nutrient profile of tangerines versus oranges is that oranges have more than double the amount of vitamin C.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps support connective tissues including skin, blood vessels and bones (6).

Oranges also have slightly more fiber than tangerines, making them a very good source of this beneficial carbohydrate.

That said, tangerines contain more vitamin A per serving. One 3.5-ounce serving of tangerine provides 14% of the daily value, while oranges offer 4%.

Both tangerines and oranges provide a good variety of nutrients, including potassium, thiamin and folate. Either fruit can be a nutritious, low-calorie addition to your diet.

Potential Health Benefits

Oranges are a great source of highly absorbable vitamin C. Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant that fights free radicals, which may play a role in cancer prevention (789).

The majority of the health benefits of oranges are likely linked to their high vitamin C content.

A handful of studies have looked at the effects of orange consumption, particularly orange juice consumption, on various health factors.

A comprehensive study found that drinking orange juice decreased DNA damage. The study concluded that vitamin C, in conjunction with other plant compounds present in oranges, likely played an active role in the decrease in damage (10).

Another study found that people who drank two cups of orange juice daily for 12 months had lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and lower total cholesterol than non-orange juice drinkers (11).

Moreover, the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) evaluated data from over 6,000 people.

Those with the highest amounts of serum vitamin C had a significantly lower prevalence of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacteria responsible for causing stomach ulcers (12).

Therefore, given the high vitamin C content in oranges, consuming oranges may be beneficial in preventing stomach ulcers caused by H. pylori.

Additionally, studies have shown that drinking orange juice may help prevent the formation of calcium oxalate and uric acid, which can contribute to kidney stones (1314).

Note that most of these studies observed the effects of drinking orange juice. However, in eating oranges, you also benefit from the fiber, which is lost during juicing.

Both whole tangerines and oranges are high in fiber and relatively low in calories.

Studies have shown that eating a high-fiber diet may be beneficial for weight reduction, decreasing the risk of heart disease and improving blood sugar levels (15161718).

This makes tangerines and oranges a smart snack choice for a balanced, weight-reduction diet.

How to Eat and Enjoy Them

The best way to eat both tangerines and oranges is to simply peel them and eat them.

Since tangerines are easier to peel, they can be used as a quick and easy snack, especially when you’re on the go. Both make great additions to salads, too.

When choosing a ripe tangerine, you will want to look for fruits that are deep in color, semi-soft and avoid those with brown spots.

Oranges don’t necessarily have to be bright in color to be ripe, but you will want to choose oranges that are firm and have smoothly textured skin.

Both tangerines and oranges can be stored on the countertop at room temperature or in the refrigerator, depending on your preference.

The Bottom Line

Tangerines and oranges are both members of the citrus family, but they are different fruits. Tangerines are a richer source of vitamin A, while oranges offer more vitamin C and fiber per serving. Oranges are also more rounded and larger, while tangerines are more flattened and petite, making them a great on-the-go snack.

Tangerines and oranges have their similarities and differences, but both are nutritious and a healthful addition to your daily diet.

Related at Care2

This article originally appeared at Authority Nutrition. Republished here with permission.

Images via Thinkstock.

47 comments

Amanda M
Amanda M1 months ago

Doesn't matter to me what the differences are-they're both YUMMY!

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Jaime J
Jaime J2 months ago

Thank you!!

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Joemar K
Joemar K2 months ago

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Magdalen B
Magdalen B2 months ago

Fascinating.

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Debbi W
Debbi W2 months ago

Can't eat oranges but do like tangerines.

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Winn A
Winnie Adams2 months ago

Thanks

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Winn A
Winnie Adams2 months ago

Noted

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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