On selecting satsumas

Satsumas on a tree.I’m obsessed with satsumas. Always have been. Every winter, I compulsively overdose to the point where the skin around my thumbnails is stained bright yellow-orange from the oils in the peel, and my teeth start to hurt from the sugar and acid. I’m an idiot. An idiot who LOVES her satsumas. And as such, I feel that I can speak from a place of authority about how to purchase optimal satsumas.

Satsumas, if you’re unfamiliar, are these amazing little tangerines, similar to the clementine and the mandarin but not quite identical to either. They are sweeter, tangier, softer-fleshed, softer-segmented, easier to peel, more seedless, and generally easier and more enjoyable to eat than any other variety of orange. To the point where I basically don’t eat oranges except from about November to about February, which is satsuma season in my part of the world.

The Wikipedia entry for satsumas contains the following text, which is bullshit:

The uniquely loose skin of the satsuma, however, means that any such bruising and damage to the fruit may not be immediately apparent upon the typical cursory visual inspection associated with assessing the quality of other fruits. In this regard, the satsuma might be categorised as a hit-and-miss citrus fruit; the loose skin particular to the fruit precluding the definitive measurement of its quality by sight and feel alone.

I am going to teach you how to perform miracles and avoid almost all shitty satsumas. Stay with me, citrus lovers.

1) Buy loose over boxed or bagged if you want the best success rate. This may seem obvious, but boxes can hide crappy, moldy, bruised fruit that will start rotting its neighbors sight unseen. If you do purchase a box or bag of satsumas, do your best to peek inside to see if you can spot any weird green or white ones, and unpack the box or bag immediately to quarantine the icky ones from the healthy ones. You can give them all a dip in warm water with a little vinegar to kill of any errant mold spores, but you’re gonna have to carefully dry them all because moisture is mold’s friend.

A box of bee sweet satsumas
Image source: Crochetbug

2) Smaller satsumas are sweeter and superior. (Just remember the handy mnemonic SSSSSS! I don’t know.) The tiny ones have more potent flavor and are generally much easier to peel. I find their texture to be more delicate, too. So it’s best to hand-select small ones that have the thinnest yet least blemished peels. (More below on blemishes.) If you must buy boxes or bags, look on the shorter side of the box, perpendicular to this image I was able to find online, haha. (Sorry! My store doesn’t have boxed ones so I couldn’t snap a real-life example.) There is a small rectangle where the packers should stamp the rough size category—Small, Medium, Large, or Jumbo. Smalls are really hard to find, but mediums are pretty prevalent and will yield a better box than any larger sizes.

A blemished satsuma.3) Closely inspect the peels. Wikipedia is correct that satsumas have much thinner skins than most orange-type fruits, and their peels are usually very loosely attached to the fruit. That’s what makes them so nice and easy to remove. But you CAN spot a damaged satsuma fairly easily from the peel if you know what to look and feel for. You just have to pay attention! (And be one of those annoying people who takes forever carefully selecting your fruit. Haste makes waste. Be a weirdo with me; I’ll keep you company.) Some signs of damage are more obvious, like this one; the spot is about the size of a penny (spread out weirdly) and is soft and brown. Ew. But any spot of any size that is brown or soft (sometimes accompanied by slightly lighter yellowing in the soft areas) is to be ignored. It may be only a tiny spot on the skin, but it can mean a greater rotted area inside. Similarly, black spots are almost always bad news, and of course white or green mold is no good. Because even the freshly transported supermarket displays can contain crappy satsumas, it pays to carefully inspect them and touch them all over their skin.

4) “Green on the peel, no big deal.” Or whatever. :) Generally, the green only develops on large sized thicker skinned satsumas, and large ones are usually avoided for inferior taste reasons anyway. But occasionally a thicker peel will develop on a smaller satsuma, and those are fine.

5) Air circulation preserves shelf life. Being crammed in a shipping crate together is part of what makes some satsumas go moldy; they seem to need to breathe. So for that reason they’re best stored loose-ish, in a bowl specially made for fruit (out of wire or something). I also like to put a cloth between them and the bars/edges of the bowl to cushion the little suckers. They WILL dry out pretty quickly since their skins are thin, but if you’re like me you’ll eat them fast enough that this won’t be an issue. (I suppose you could always try the lemon hack with them; I’ve never done that. I wouldn’t want to bite into a cold satsuma; that would hurt my teeth.)

6) Peeling them nicely brings good luck. Okay, not really, but it’s fun. I’ve always peeled mine in this kind of serpentine fashion in exactly one piece, ever since I was a kid. Dunno why. And another friend of mine always peels hers in a star-flower-like shape. We take pride in our peeling. What’s your peel shape? Send me a picture! (Not a rude one.)

Happy satsuma season!


  1. Oh right, I forgot! Don’t bother with the ones on the stem with leaves unless you’re just nuts over the aesthetics. I find that the leafy ones can be worse overall because the stems can poke at the delicate skins, causing tiny blemishes that will grow into larger rotted spots.

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