Monday, July 26, 2010

INGREDIENTS - A Tangerine By Any Other Name Would Taste As Sweet

Amidst the wonders that is the fruit section of a Brazilian market or supermarket - between the stacks of sapoti, acerola, buriti, and other fruits with names that are unknown or unpronounceable - usually sits a nice selection of tangerines. For a North American or European visitor to Brazil the sight of tangerines in the market brings a sense of comfort - "here's something familiar, delicious, easy to handle and eat, and dependable" - and often leads to buying a bagful. Usually it's a good purchasing decision, for the tangerines in Brazil are most often juicy, sweet and delectable.

Tangerines, like all citrus fruits, are not native to Brazil, but they have adapted well to growing conditions in this country and are one of the most commonly available fruits year round. Brazil is the third-largest tangerine-producing country in the world, being surpassed only by China and Spain. The annual harvest is about 1.2 million tons per year, and most of the production is consumed domestically.

Tangerines were brought to Brazil by Portuguese colonists early in the colonial period, and have been consumed in Brazil for centuries. In early colonial times transportation between various settlement areas in Brazil was difficult if not impossible due to topography and ocean currents and consequently there was little contact between the colonies of what is now the north, the northeast, the southeast and the south of Brazil. Due to lack of contact and trade, colonies went there own wayin many things, and developed local differences, preferences and terminology. Because of this, what we know in English as the "tangerine" goes by a large number of names in Brazil, and the name used varies principally by region.

Today, the tangerine has at least the following names in Brazil (there are probably more):
  • In the south of Brazil, in the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, it's called bergamota or vergamota
  • In the southeast, in the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo, it's known as mexerica
  • In the northeast, the local name is laranja-cravo (clove orange in English)
  • In the states of Piauí and Maranhão, it's a tanja
  • In the city of Curitiba be becomes a mimosa
  • In the central-western states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, it's called poncã

All of which makes the English-language nomenclature - tangerine, mandarin, clementine - quite simple and straightforward, doesn't it?

However you call it, and wherever you eat it, though, an easy-to-peel, cold, sweet tangerine is one of the most refreshing fruits on earth, in Brazil or anywhere else. It's no wonder that million-plus tons of tangerines cultivated every year in Brazil never makes it to the export market.

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