My life was so much simpler when I was a child. So was my vocabulary. To me, oranges were oranges and the local name was kahel. If they were small, I called them ponkan. If the skin was green, they were dalandan. Tangerine was a color and clementine was a song (Oh, my darling / Oh, my darling / Oh, my darling Clementine…). I found it strange that my grandmother referred to dalandan as dalanghita, I never bothered asking why and just presumed that dalanghita was the term in vogue when she was a child during the first quarter of the 1900s.
I should have paid more attention to my grandmother’s terminology. But because I didn’t, it took couple of decades for me to get my orange dictionary right.
Dalandan is Citrus aurantium (bitter orange, sour orange, Seville orange). Dalanghita is Citrus nobilis (mandarin orange). Tangerine and clementine are cultivars of mandarin orange.
I thought I had it all sorted out when, after buying a tree labeled as “ponkan”, I posted photos of its fruits three years after replanting the tree in our garden, and a reader commented wondering if the fruit in the photo was kiat-kiat and not ponkan. And I got confused all over again.
From what I’ve read, ponkan is a sweet and high-yield variety of tangerine and kiat-kiat is a variety of ponkan. Kiat-kiat is smaller than regular ponkan.
Does knowing the difference among all those orange varieties and cultivars really benefit a person whose only intention is to eat the fruit or drink its juice? Yes, apparently. For instance, while the peel of dalandan is great for making orange marmalade, the peel of dalanghita and ponkan are not because they give none of the subtle bitterness that makes orange marmalade so delicious.
On the other hand, because ponkan juice is sweeter than the juice of other oranges, it’s great for making beverages. Just squeeze and drink. No need to add sugar.
And ponkan isn’t just good for drinking. When the ponkan tree in the garden was bearing fruits very generously, I made all kinds of sauces with the juice. I’ve mixed it with honey, patis (fish sauce) and chopped chilies and poured the sauce over crisp fried pork (or maybe that was chicken, I can’t exactly recall). Because kiat-kiat is just a small ponkan, it is just as sweet. After Sam turned vegetarian, kiat-kiat was her go-to snack for several months until she eventually got tired of them.
Can the juice of all orange varieties be drank with no sugar added? Well, that’s really a matter of preference. Some people do enjoy orange juice in its pure form. Personally, I add sugar unless it’s ponkan juice. Earlier today, I was in the market and the fruit stalls were teeming with dalanghita (yes, I got the name right!). I bought half a kilo, squeezed six of them into a glass, added ice and drank. Too sour for me. Two teaspoonfuls of sugar later, the balance between sour and sweet was just perfect.
So, next time you go to the market and see oranges in different sizes, remember that you might be looking at different varieties. Which you should buy depends on how you intent to consume the fruit. Want to enjoy them for a snack? Go for ponkan or its little brother, kiat-kiat, because they are sweeter than other orange varieties.
But it’s worth considering too the source of the fruits. Where were they grown and harvested? Climate and soil also affect the flavor of fruits. And tree-ripened fruits are generally sweeter than fruits allowed to ripen after they have been plucked off the trees. If the fruits were harvested before they were fully ripe, even ponkan and kiat-kiat might not taste so sweet. There is a widespread practice among commercial farmers to harvest fruits a few days before they are fully ripe. The time factor is carefully calculated so that the fruits do not go bad for the number of days needed to transport them to the market. This is especially true with fruits that are exported to far-away countries. So, consider all that when buying oranges for eating or for its making unsweetened beverages.
What variety is good for baking? The kind that gives off the most zest. In baking, it’s really the zest that gives cakes and cookies the orange-y flavor and aroma.
What orange variety is good for making facial wipes and skin cleanser? I wouldn’t know. This is a food blog, after all, and skin care isn’t covered here.