It's Sumo Citrus Season: Gather A Supply Of Sumo Mandarins - The Nibble Webzine Of Food Adventures It's Sumo Citrus Season: Gather A Supply Of Sumo Mandarins
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It’s Sumo Citrus Season: Gather A Supply Of Sumo Mandarins

Sumo Citrus has hit the shelves at grocers near you. Available nationwide* annually from January to April. you can easily recognize them by their topknot—reminiscent of the hair of sumo wrestlers. Sumo Citrus is one of the world’s largest and sweetest mandarins, celebrated for its sweet taste and distinct looks. Originally from Japan, Sumo Citrus is now grown in the U.S.

Compared to the navel and other oranges, Sumo Citrus is easy to peel. It’s seedless, super-sweet, and juicy: a no-mess snack.

It’s a bit more expensive than other mandarins. According to, Sumo Citrus is the most difficult citrus to grow. It takes four years of constant care before a Sumo Citrus tree produces any fruit.

Despite its rugged appearance, it’s a delicate fruit that requires far more expertise and gentle handling than any other piece of citrus. Each Sumo Citrus tree is carefully groomed by hand every year and then hand-picked and hand-packed. Even the trailers used to transport Sumo Citrus are designed to give it a smooth (vs. bumpy) ride!

Here’s more about Sumo Citrus.

The term “mandarin orange” is incorrect. Mandarins and oranges are separate species, as you can see from the taxonomy below.

From a visual perspective:

  • Oranges are medium to large round or ovoid shapes covered with a thick peel that can take time to remove. They are in the genus Citrus, with separate species (e.g. Citrus sinensis, the sweet orange group, includes the common sweet orange, blood orange, and navel orange).
  • Sometimes they’re sweet, and sometimes they aren’t; you don’t know until you buy and try.
  • Mandarins are small and roundish with flatness on the top and bottom, and a loose, easy-to-peel skin. They are in the genus/species Citrus reticulata.
  • The mandarin from California are reliably sweet and usually seedless. That’s why we prefer mandarins like clementines and Sumo Citrus to navel oranges, which are a spin on the sweetness roulette wheel.
    Are they close relatives?

    From a hybridization perspective, the mandarin is a progenitor of the orange. The orange is a cross between a mandarin and a pomelo, created long ago in China.

    Both are in the genus Citrus; the binomial classification of both mandarins and oranges branches at the species level (we’d call this “cousins”). For food geeks, here’s the entire taxonomy:

  • Kingdom Plantae
  • Clade† Tracheophytes
  • Clade Angiosperms
  • Clade Eudicots
  • Clade Rosids
  • Order Sapindales
  • Family Rutaceae
  • Subfamily Auranntioideae
  • Tribe Citreae
  • Subtribe Citrinae
  • Genus Citrus
  • Species: reticulata (mandarin), citrus X sinensis (orange)
  • Subspecies: there are individual subspecies for both mandarins (e.g. clementine, tangerine) and oranges (e.g. navel, Seville)
    Hats off to the botanists who painstakingly mapped this out!


    [1] Sumo Citrus has a topknot, like the sumo wrestlers after which they were named (all photos © Sumo Citrus).

    [2] Sumo Citrus are mandarins, easy to peel.

    [3] Look for them in the produce section from January through April.

    [4] Add segments to green salads (here mesclun and fennel), chicken salads, and to a pan sauce (photo © Shaya Restaurant | New Orleans).


    Retailers include Albertsons, H‑E‑B, Hy-Vee, Kroger, Osco, Pavilions, Publix, Ralphs, Safeway, Sams Club, Shaws, Sprouts, Target, Vons, Wegmans, and Whole Foods.

    †A clade is a branch that includes a single common ancestor; the group of its descendants is called a clade. A cladogram is an evolutionary tree that diagrams the ancestral relationships among organisms.





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