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Kishu Mandarins

If you like citrus fruits and are on the lookout for a healthy snack, look no further! Kishu Mandarins are sweet, walnut-sized tangerines particularly loved by parents because of their lack of seeds, which makes it safe for children to eat on their own. Don’t be fooled by their small size—they’re packed with flavor and health benefits!

A small pile of mandarins on a tray.

Read on to learn more about the Kishu Mandarin.

History of the Kishu Mandarin

Native to Southern China, experts think that Kishu Mandarins have been planted and grown for their fruits since the 700s, and that they evolved from an ancient mandarin ancestor that also originated in China. They were an elite delicacy eaten by the emperor and his nobility, and was introduced to Japan in the 1200s.

In Japan, people had superstition beliefs about foods; they believed that eating seeded citrus fruits would lead to many children and a healthy family, while eating seedless citrus fruits brought bad luck, and ended family lineages. Since Kishu Mandarins were originally seeded, this helped spread their cultivation. It quickly became the most popular citrus fruit in Tokyo and remained so until the late nineteenth century. In Japan, Kishus are still called Kishu Mikan: “mikan” meaning “mandarin.”

A display of Kishu mandarins at a market.

Kishu Mandarins only reached the American coasts in the eighteen hundreds, and even then remained relatively unknown until 1983, when Japan introduced their seedless variety to the UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection: a vast collection of citrus types used for citrus research, breeding, and education in California. The first commercial orchard to grow Kishus in America was planted in Ojai, California, by a farmer named Jim Churchill, who obtained his first seeds from that very collection in the 1990s.

The Kishu Mandarin arrived in Europe even later, and has only been commercially available since 2006! Today the fruit is grown in Asia, Europe, Australia, and two American states: California and Florida.

About the Kishu Mandarin Fruit and Tree

Kishu Mandarin Fruit

Kishu Mandarins’ botanical classification is Citrus kinokuni mukakukishu, it belongs to the Rutaceae family, and is closely related to the mandarin orange. You may have heard them called other names as well, including Cherry Oranges, Baby Mandarings, and Kishu Kisses. They’re also known as Kishu Tangerines, and if you’re confused about the difference between tangerines and mandarins, you’re not the only one! The citrus industry has blurred the two names so much that they are now interchangeable.

The fruit grows up to one to two inches in diameter, and can have seven to nineteen sections beneath its peel. The peel has a deep orange color and is thin, smooth, and glossy. It’s also covered in very small oil glands that allow for the fruit’s lovely fragrant scent. A Kishu Mandarin has a small depression on both its top and bottom, which makes it look squat, and the flesh of its sections are firm, yet watery.

Mandarins on a table, one of them peeled with some segments pulled out.

Another factor that makes this citrus a parents’ favorite is how easy it is to peel. This is because the peel wraps loosely around the segments within, and allows for air pockets. The most popular variety of the Kishu Mandarin today is seedless, but other varieties do have seeds.

The fruit can be harvested during the central winter months. Some sources claim the best harvesting time is end of November through January, while others say January through February, and the discrepancy is likely due to the different temperatures of different geographic locations. Wherever you are, if you pick the fruit too late, its slices get puffy and lose their flavor.

Kishu Mandarin Tree

Kishu Mandarin trees are small evergreens that don’t grow any taller than ten feet, and no wider than four feet. Their beautiful blossoms bloom in April, after the harvest season, and there are some Kishu Mandarin trees in China that are hundreds of years old. One tree will produce around eighty-eight pounds of mandarins per year—that’s a lot of fruit!

Mandarins growing on a tree.

They’re fast growers, and can produce fruit even during their first year of life. Maybe that’s why Kishu Mandarin trees are a favorite in Japanese home gardens!

Eating the Kishu Mandarin

Though the tree itself is quite lovely, it’s no secret that most people grow the plant for its delicious fruit. The Kishu Mandarin has a naturally high sugar content (from eleven to fourteen Brix), which makes it exceptionally sweet. It’s sweetness, however, is well balanced by its acidity, which contributes tartness to its tangy flavor.

The Kishu Mandarin also has a plethora of health benefits. Like other citrus fruits, it is very high in vitamin C, which boosts the immune system, and vitamin A, which supports the healthy functioning of organs. It also has lots of fiber for the digestive system; potassium for bodily fluids; calcium for bones; copper for connective tissue; and antioxidants that protect cells from getting damaged by unstable atoms called free radicals, which could severely harm your health.

Peeled mandarin slices in a small bowl.

They’re also just about twenty calories, so they’re the perfect snack for anyone keeping an eye on their weight. Kishu Mandarins are simply a fountain of health!

While they’re too small for juicing and zesting, Kishus are best enjoyed eaten by hand, segment by segment. Once they’re peeled, however, they’ll only keep for about one week at room temperature, and up to two weeks in the fridge—so either wait to peel them, or eat them quickly!

The Kishu Mandarin in your Kitchen

If you’d rather not eat the Kishu Mandarin on its own, you’re in luck—it also goes great with a lot of different dishes! It can be used in salads, grain bowls, and fruit salads, where they pair well with other sweet-tart fruits like strawberries, blueberries, grapes, and kiwi.

You can often find them peeled and segmented in cheese platters, as well, where they’re usually preferred with soft cheeses. You might even find them in seafood dishes with white fish and different types of crustaceans.

If you’re looking for something a little fancier, you can use them in marinades, sauces, syrups, and other sweet and savory dressings. Because they’re so small, however, you don’t typically find them in marmalades or jams—imagine how many Kishus you’d have to peel!

These mandarins also go great with desserts! If you like orange and chocolate combinations, you’re sure to love chocolate-dipped Kishu mandarins. Their little half-moon shaped segments are also perfect as decorations on cakes and tarts, or as toppings for your breakfast yogurt or ice cream snack.

A peeled mandarin surrounded by chocolate-dipped mandarin slices.

We’ve even found a recipe for candied Kishu Mandarins in the book The Art of Simple Food II: Recipes, Flavor, and Inspiration from the New Kitchen Garden by Alice Waters.

Last but not least, in Japan Kishu Mandarin peels are dried and ground with other ingredients into a spice called shichimi togarashi, which is used in roasted meats, veggies, rice, and noodles.

Buying Kishu Mandarins

Prefer to skip the tree-growing part, and get straight to the eating? You can find Kishu Mandarins at California and Florida farmers markets, or you can try a specialty grocery store like Whole Foods.

Kishu mandarins in a plastic produce bag.

During the appropriate season, they might even be available for purchase online.

Planting and Growing Your Own Kishu Mandarin Tree

Don’t live in California or Florida? The good news is that because of its small size, the Kishu Mandarin tree can be grown indoors if you have a greenhouse or sun porch. Another option is to plant the tree in a container outside, and bring it indoors before the first winter frost.

Whether you grow them indoors or plant them in your garden, the Kishu Mandarin tree thrives in full sunlight, and should have at least five hours of direct sun every day. If you can guarantee this, the rest of the tree’s maintenance requires very little effort.

Kishu Mandarin trees love warm weather, and will grow healthily and produce fruit in temperature between fifty-five to eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. They prefer humidity, however, so you’re encouraged to mist the tree with water from a spray bottle daily. After planting your Kishu Mandarin, you can enrich the soil with a specialized citrus plant fertilizer.

Mandarins growing on a tree.

Like most trees, Kishu Mandarins also don’t do well with too much water, so you should make sure that it has a proper drainage system. This can be as simple as adding wood shavings to the soil, which helps with the drainage. You can also use a moisture meter to help determine when it’s time to water your tree, which should only be done when the soil around the roots is dry.

You can also help pollination by carefully shaking its branches, which will facilitate the distribution of pollen between its flowers. Or, you can also use a cotton swab and perform this operation manually between open blossoms.

As mentioned earlier, the harvesting season varies depending on the location, so you should just aim to pick the fruit when it is about 2 inches in diameter. You can cut it from your tree using gardening scissors. Then, enjoy!

Where to Buy a Kishu Mandarin Tree

You can purchase a Kishu Mandarin tree from several online retailers, including Nature Hills Nursery.

Final Thoughts About the Kishu Mandarin

It’s no wonder Kishu Mandarins have been loved and cultivated since ancient times. As if its fragrance and sweet taste wasn’t enough, it has loads of health benefits, and is an easy, on-the-go snack.

A mandarrin tree growing indoors.

Want to learn more? Check out our tangerine blog, and explore the rest of our site for great information on how to plant, grow, and care for your garden.