But over the past few years, another variety has been gaining favor with the public—tangerines.
Marketing efforts by Cuties and other branded mandarins have helped attract even more consumers, who often find tangerines more flavorful than oranges, especially early in the season.
Florida growers say they’d like to offer a locally grown tangerine that’s tastier than anything they’ve ever produced, and researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are working to develop new varieties that will appeal to growers and consumers alike.
“We’ve always had a pretty good tangerine industry in Florida, but all of our really popular varieties are seedy,” says Jude Grosser, professor at the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center Lake Alfred, Fla.
Grosser and his colleagues have taken it upon themselves to develop varieties that are competitive nationally and internationally with the flavor and juice varieties that Florida citrus offers, but that also have the convenience and attractive appearance that some Florida varieties lack.
Deciphering genetic codes
University researchers have made substantial progress unlocking the genetic codes that give Florida tangerines their distinctive flavor and aroma, says Fred Gmitter, citrus foundation professor at Lake Alfred.
In a study reported in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, IFAS researchers, led by Gmitter, showed that tangerine flavor is derived from a complex combination of compounds.
In fact, 49 aroma compounds were discovered in five tangerine hybrids tested.
“We are trying to identify aroma and flavor compounds not only by chemical analysis, but also using trained taste panels so we can know which ones actually contribute in a positive or negative way to flavor,” Gmitter says.
Identifying genetic markers enables breeders to select seedlings that will contain specific flavor attributes early in the development process.
Gmitter’s goal is to develop good-tasting, high-producing tangerine hybrids that are resistant to disease, easy to peel and look attractive on the supermarket shelf.
He’s already had some breakthroughs, like the university’s first mandarin hybrid release—Sugar Belle. It looks a lot like the minneola tangelo, but ripens up to six weeks earlier.