Native to China and northeastern India, mandarins are one of five original types of citrus (along with pummelos, citrons, kumquats and papedas) from which all others, like oranges and grapefruit, are derived. Until recently, because most mandarins were relatively small, delicate or full of seeds, they remained less cultivated than other citrus in the United States.
Several forces converged to ignite the California mandarin boom. Consumers increasingly demanded convenient, easy-to-eat fruits like blueberries and seedless grapes. In the 1970s, Spain started exporting clementines — seedless and easy to peel, with excellent flavor — to the Eastern United States, and that trade increased significantly after a devastating California citrus freeze in 1990.
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