During the heart of winter in New Jersey, there’s nothing I enjoy more than the crisp, bright citrus flavors of satsuma stem and mandarin leaf oranges, which offer a ton of nutrition as well as an interesting backstory.
The satsuma mandarin orange may have originated in China, but it was first reported in Japan more than 700 years ago, where it’s now the major cultivar. Here in the U.S., satsumas were first introduced in the 1800s by early settlers along the banks of the Mississippi River near New Orleans. The Owari satsuma arrived in Florida from Japan in the 1870s, and from 1908 to 1911, nearly a million budded trees were planted in the Gulf States. The name is credited to the U.S. minister to Japan at the time, General Van Valkenberg, who in 1878 sent trees home to his wife from the Japanese province of Satsuma, located on the southern tip of Kyushu Island (now Kagoshima Prefecture), where these oranges are believed to have originated. Today, most American satsumas are grown in California, followed by coastal Louisiana and Alabama, where mild winters allow the fruit to flourish.
Joining the range of sunny-colored citrus fruits that brighten produce aisles during the winter, satsumas hit their peak season in February. Part of the mandarin orange family (which also includes tangerines and clementines), satsumas are one of the sweetest citrus varieties, with a delicious taste and tender texture. Their moderately thick skin peels off readily, and their easy-to-separate segments make them convenient, healthy snacks for adults and kids alike.
To me, melt-in-your-mouth satsumas offer the perfect balance of sweet and tart flavors. Because of their size and appearance, satsumas are often confused with tangerines and clementines. The main difference between them is what lies inside the satsuma: notably thin membranes filled to capacity with liquid, which means less pulp and more of the prized juice.
Though they’re relatively small in stature, satsuma oranges (and other mandarins) pack a nutritional punch. Among other benefits, they’re high in vitamin C (a powerful antioxidant), potassium (which regulates blood pressure and promotes heart health) and fiber (which aids in digestion and weight loss). Plus, satsumas’ high juice content and subsequent hydrating qualities promote healthy, vibrant skin—and their high folate content enhances brain health and cognitive function.
SELECTION, STORAGE AND PREPARATION
One of the first mandarins to hit grocery shelves in early winter, satsumas are best from October to February. When selecting, look for satsumas with firm, tight peels and no hollow-feeling or dented spots. Heavier ones are generally juicier. Seek fruit with fresh-looking, bright green twigs and leaves still attached (since each stem must be clipped by hand, this signals careful picking, meticulous handling, and freshness—all indicators of high quality). Store them at room temperature—or, if you prefer, in the refrigerator; just be aware that while refrigeration may prolong their life, it can also dry them out. For ultimate freshness, enjoy satsumas within four or five days of purchase.
Satsuma oranges and other mandarins are delicious eaten raw and out of hand, but they also make great additions to fruit salads, green salads and smoothies. My wife, Bette, likes to incorporate satsumas into cheesecake, a dessert which our family loves at this time of year. It showcases a mix of great flavors and textures that we know you’ll enjoy, too!
Bette’s Sensational Satsuma Orange Cheesecake
(makes 8-10 servings)
- 1¾ cups vanilla wafer crumbs
- ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ cup butter or margarine, melted
- 3 eggs
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons orange extract
- 3 cups sour cream
- Satsuma orange, cut into pieces
- Whole satsuma segments for topping
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl, mix together all of the crust ingredients, then press crust mixture along the bottom and up the sides of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, salt, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and orange extract until smooth. Blend in the sour cream and satsuma segments. Pour the filling into the prepared crust and bake for 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Top with satsuma segments and chill for approximately 3 hours. Enjoy!
About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 70 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author and TV personality who’s appeared on a highly popular segment on WNBC’s Weekend Today in New York, every Saturday morning for over 30 years. For more information, visit producepete.com.
About Susan Bloom
A regular contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for over a decade.
Pete and Susan are the coauthors of Pete’s award-winning memoir/cookbook, They Call Me Produce Pete, available on Pete’s website and wherever books are sold.