Also known as “honey citrus”
What is it?
Along with tangerines and clementines, satsumas (Citrus unshiu) are part of the Mandarin family of small oranges with loose skin. Known for their sweet flavor, little satsumas are practically the perfect fruit: tender, juicy, easy to peel, seedless, and full of fragrant flavor. The harvest begins for these deep-orange fruits in late September or early October—earlier than other citrus—so they’re perfect for kicking off the citrus season.
Satsumas have grown in the former Satsuma province of southern Japan for at least 700 years. An American general’s wife sent a tree home to the United States in the late 1800s. Shortly thereafter, more than a million trees were shipped to the Gulf Coast. The cold-hardy trees can withstand the region’s occasional cold snaps better than other citrus varieties, so they’re well suited to large-scale commercial farming there, as well as in Northern California.
How to choose:
Their thin, delicate skin makes them difficult to ship, so the majority of satsumas are sold canned, though improved shipping technology means that these days, we can increasingly find and enjoy them fresh.
A good indicator of freshness at the market is whether satsumas still have their stems and leaves. If so, look for healthy, green leaves, although those with the stems removed can still be perfectly good. Choose ones that feel heavy for their size with glossy, fragrant peels. It’s fine if the skin feels a little loose around the fruit, but the satsuma shouldn’t feel squishy or look wrinkled. Don’t worry if there’s some greenness on the peel—sometimes the fruit ripens before the peel changes color.
How to prep:
With their intensely floral, sweet, and tangy notes, satsumas are a nice addition to boldly flavored dishes, both sweet and savory. Toss them in salads, or use their juice and zest in cakes, or in more savory sauces and glazes. Their sweetness balances out tart flavors like cranberries, as in the recipe below, or lemons. And their tartness works nicely against sweeter flavors, like brown butter, brown sugar, and honey.
How to store:
Satsumas can be refrigerated for up to one week, preferably in the crisper drawer.