A clementine is a hesperidium, of a variety of mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata) so named in 1902. The exterior is a deep orange colour with a smooth, glossy appearance. Clementines separate easily into seven to fourteen moderately-juicy segments. They are very easy to peel, like a tangerine, but are almost always seedless. Clementines are, thus, also known as seedless tangerines. They are typically juicy and sweet, with less acid than oranges. Their oils, like other citrus fruits, contain mostly limonene as well as myrcene, linalool, α-pinene and many complex aromatics.
The traditional story is that it was “originally an accidental hybrid said to have been discovered by Father Clément Rodier in the garden of his orphanage in Misserghin, Algeria.” However, there are claims it originated in China much earlier. James Saunt has commented that “Some authorities believe it is virtually identical to the variety known as the Canton mandarin widely grown in Guangxi and Guangdong Provinces in China.”
The Clementine is not always distinguished from other varieties of mandarin oranges. However, it should not be confused with similar fruit such as the satsuma, which is another name for the Japanese mikan, 蜜柑 honey sweet orange, and is another popular variety. The clementine is occasionally referred to as Algerian tangerine.
This variety was introduced into California commercial agriculture in 1914, though it was grown at the Citrus Research Center at the University of California, Riverside as early as 1909. Clementines, usually grown in Morocco and Spain, have been available in Europe for many years. A market for them in the United States was created recently, when the harsh 1997 winter in Florida devastated domestic orange production, increasing prices and decreasing availability. California clementines are available from mid-November through January; this availability has them referred to in some areas as “Christmas Oranges”. Clementines are typically shipped in small wooden or cardboard boxes with a move in recent years to net bags.
Clementines lose their desirable seedless characteristic when they are cross-pollinated with other fruit. To prevent this, in 2006 growers such as Paramount Citrus in California threatened to sue local beekeepers to keep bees away from their crops.