The Flavor Bomb Citrus You Have to Grow
Here’s a citrus tree that will be perfectly at home in a small garden, grows as well on the coast as it does inland, and best of all delivers an annual winter crop of petite, seedless mandarins with a thin skin that’s easy to peel, is reliably juicy, and has a perfect sweet-tart flavor.
A Citrus as Ancient as China
Meet Kishu mandarins, known botanically as Citrus kinokuni. Their origins are ancient, perhaps dating back to the 8th century in Southern China before they spread across Asia. Kishus became a particular favorite in Japan and were introduced in California in the 1990’s by a grower in Ojai. You may have seen them in markets under other names, including Cherry oranges, Baby mandarins, Tiny tangerines, Little Wonders, and Kishu Kisses. They are very similar to Satsuma mandarins but even tastier and on a more attractive plant.
Kishu mandarin trees not only produce stunning fruit, but as a small plant, they are a beautiful visual addition to a garden. You can start young trees in a decorative pot and later transplant them into the ground to give them more room to grow. And when they set flowers in the spring, the blossoms give off a lovely aromatic fragrance sure to attract pollinators.
Sweet and Tiny and Perfect for Children
But the primary reason for growing Kishus is the fruit. They range in size from walnuts to golf balls—yes, they’re that tiny. As for the flavor, some swear they’re as sweet as candy—and, yes, they have high sugar content. Think of Satsumas, but even tastier and juicier! What I love is that they also have a bit of acid, which adds some tang and balance. That refreshing citrus pop, plus the fact that they’re seedless, means they’re not just a great snack (pack a few of these easy-to-peel beauties in your kids’ school lunches) but can also be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen.
So Many Ways to Enjoy Kishus
Other than snacking on Kishus, the easiest application is simply to peel and segment them to add to fruit or green salads or even grain salads (complemented by toasted nuts). Add them to cheese platters or charcuterie. Dip segments into dark chocolate to serve guests. Use them to garnish cakes or tarts. Or treat them as you would any other mandarin and juice them for marinades, vinaigrettes, or sauces. Like other citrus, they pair well not just with other fruits, but also spices like cinnamon, vanilla, five spice, cloves, and fennel pollen. They can go from a salad to a savory dish, like chicken, pork, or seafood to dessert.
Here we’ve candied them, adding a stick of cinnamon. The simple syrup you create, by incorporating both the kishu juices and then heady cinnamon, is just as heavenly as the kishu slices themselves—and it takes just minutes to make. My first batch went directly over scoops of vanilla gelato.
Candied Kishus with CinnamonYield: 4 cups
* 4 cups kishu mandarins, washed
* 1 cup water
* 2 cups sugar
* 1 cinnamon stick (or split vanilla bean star anise, or cloves)
Slice Kishus horizontally, keeping the skin on but discarding the ends.
Heat water, sugar, and cinnamon stick in a saucepan until it reaches a boil. Simmer for 4 minutes and then add kishu slices. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Set up a bowl and sieve and drain the Kishus through the sieve over the bowl to collect the syrup. Add the syrup and cinnamon back to the saucepan and simmer for about 4 minutes to reduce it. Remove and discard cinnamon or other whole spices.
While the syrup is reducing, place the Kishus in a clean jar. When ready, pour the syrup over it until it covers the top of the fruit.
Refrigerate and serve candied Kishus on top of a salad, on chicken or pork, or—of course—over ice cream or yogurt. Or enjoy them as a snack. Store for up to 2 weeks.