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What is the fruit that looks like an orange?

What is the fruit that looks like an orange?

When we think of citrus fruits, oranges are likely one of the first that come to mind. With their bright orange color, round shape, and tangy sweet flavor, oranges are a popular and delicious fruit enjoyed around the world. However, oranges aren’t the only citrus fruit with these characteristics. There is another fruit that closely resembles oranges in appearance – the tangerine.

So what is the fruit that looks like an orange? The answer is tangerines. Though they look very similar, tangerines and oranges are two distinct fruits with some key differences. By examining their physical features, taste, nutritional value, and origins, we can understand what sets tangerines apart from their orange lookalikes.

Physical Appearance

At a glance, tangerines and oranges appear almost identical. They are both spherical citrus fruits with a textured peel that ranges in color from orange to reddish-orange. However, upon closer inspection, some subtle physical differences emerge:


Tangerines are noticeably smaller than oranges. An average tangerine is about the size of a golf ball, around 2-3 inches in diameter. Oranges are quite a bit larger, usually 3-4 inches in diameter, closer to the size of a tennis ball.


Though both fruits have peels, the peel of a tangerine is thinner, smoother, and easier to peel than that of an orange. An orange’s peel is a bit thicker and bumpier. Tangerine peels are also more loosely attached to the inner fruit.


When peeled, oranges and tangerines separate into segments. Tangerine segments are smaller and less neatly defined than orange segments. Oranges have more clear-cut separations between each juice-filled segment.


Tangerines generally contain a fewer number of seeds than oranges. Orange segments are more likely to have several seeds embedded within them, while tangerine segments may only have 1-2 seeds or sometimes none at all.

Characteristic Tangerine Orange
Size 2-3 inches diameter 3-4 inches diameter
Peel Texture Thin, smooth Slightly thicker, bumpier
Segments Less defined Clear separations
Seeds Fewer More

So while tangerines and oranges look very similar overall, tangerines tend to be smaller with smoother peels and less noticeable segments. These physical differences set them apart.


Beyond physical characteristics, tangerines and oranges differ noticeably in taste:


Tangerines tend to be much sweeter and less acidic than oranges. They contain higher natural sugar content and less citric acid, giving them a candy-like sweetness. Oranges are more tart and tangy.


The juicier pulp and thinner membranes of tangerines make them seem even more juicy and succulent. Oranges have a bit more fiber in their pulp which gives them a less juicy mouthfeel.

Flavor Intensity

Overall, tangerines have a richer, more intense flavor than oranges. The sweetness and citrus flavor of a tangerine is very vibrant on the palate. Oranges have a more mild, subtle citrus taste.

So when it comes to taste, tangerines deliver a fruit-forward sweetness and juicy citrus flavor that sets them apart from the more sour, mild orange.


Though quite similar, some nutritional differences between tangerines and oranges include:

Vitamin C

Tangerines contain a bit less vitamin C than oranges – around 20-25mg per tangerine compared to 60-80mg per orange. However, they still provide a good amount of this vital nutrient.


Tangerines have slightly less dietary fiber than oranges with 1-2g per tangerine versus 3-4g per orange. Oranges get some extra fiber from their thicker pulp membranes.


As mentioned earlier, tangerines contain more natural sugars than oranges, which contributes to their intense sweetness. An average tangerine has around 12-15g of sugar compared to 9-11g in an orange.


With their higher sugar content, tangerines are moderately higher in calories than oranges. One tangerine has about 50 calories while a medium orange has around 60 calories.

Nutrient Tangerine Orange
Vitamin C 20-25mg 60-80mg
Fiber 1-2g 3-4g
Sugar 12-15g 9-11g
Calories 50 60

So while fairly similar nutritionally, key differences like vitamin C, fiber, and sugar content distinguish tangerines from oranges.


Tangerines and oranges have distinct origins and histories:


Oranges originated around Southeast Asia, especially China and India. Tangerines are thought to have first grown in Southeast Asia as well, but more specifically Vietnam and Southern China.

Cultivation History

Oranges were cultivated as early as 2500 BC in China and slowly spread west via trade routes. Tangerines were cultivated much later, emerging as hybrids of mandarin oranges and sweet oranges around the 1800s.


There are many varieties of oranges but only a few varieties of tangerines. Popular orange varieties include navel oranges, Valencia oranges, blood oranges and more. The main tangerine varieties are Clementine, Satsuma, and Honey tangerines.


Oranges are the most widely grown citrus fruit with massive production globally. Tangerines are produced on a much smaller scale, making up just 5% of world citrus production.

Factor Tangerine Orange
Origins Vietnam, S. China Southeast Asia
History Cultivated 1800s Cultivated since 2500 BC
Varieties Few – Clementine, Satsuma Many – navel, Valencia, blood
Production 5% of citrus Most produced citrus

So while their origins may overlap, human cultivation has differentiated oranges and tangerines over centuries. Oranges have become ubiquitous while tangerines remain a specialty fruit.


So what is the fruit that looks strikingly similar to an orange? The tangerine. Though tangerines closely resemble oranges with their round shape and bright orange color, they diverge when it comes to size, peel texture, flavor, nutrients, and origins. Tangerines tend to be smaller and sweeter than oranges with a smoother peel and distinct pedigree. These characteristics make tangerines stand out from their orange doppelgangers. So next time you see a fruit that looks like a small, sweet orange, remember it’s likely a tangerine!