Mandarin oranges and tangerines are both citrus fruits that belong to the Rutaceae family. These two fruits resemble each other a lot in their appearance, and look similar at first glance. Both are orange in colour, almost similar in shape and size, and are also similar in taste. People often find it quite confusing to differentiate between the two based on their appearance alone; however there are certain characteristics that can help you distinguish between mandarin oranges and tangerines quite easily.
Technically or botanically speaking, both mandarins and tangerines are in fact mandarins, rather we can say that the tangerine is a subgroup of the mandarin family. Therefore, all tangerines are considered mandarins, but not all mandarins are tangerines.
The two can be distinguished primarily on the basis of their colour. Tangerines have a reddish-orange colour, and are visibly darker in colour as compared to mandarins, which are characterised by a lighter orange shade. The tangerine has a thicker and rougher skin while the mandarin orange has a smoother and thinner skin that glows in sunlight.
Tangerine oranges are rounder and more spherical in shape as compared to other mandarins, which are elliptical in shape and resemble the squash to some degree. Tangerines are harder than mandarin oranges, and do not bruise easily. For this reason, tangerines are a hardy fruit that does not require much care when it comes to shipping or surviving freezing temperatures.
Tangerine oranges have a taste that is a little on the tart side, while mandarins have a milder, sweeter taste. However, both tangerines and mandarin oranges are less tart as compared to a regular orange.
Tangerines are usually sold with the peel on, and are often used to stuff cooked duck or turkey, and a variety of other poultry dishes. Mandarin oranges, on the other hand, are mostly sold peeled in cans or jars, and are frequently used in fresh salad recipes, and for making cakes, pies and tarts.