Preventive Maintenance: My darling clementine

by Karen Bowen

Soon it will be Christmas. Are you looking forward to celebrating the season? Food certainly is part of the way we celebrate: a table covered with turkey and all the trimmings, a season filled with cookies, candies and all kinds of treats. There are many food traditions tied to Christmas, and those little wooden crates full of bright orange clementines is one of my favourites.

Clementines haven’t always been a part of our Christmas tradition, though. The market for clementines in North America really began when there was a shortage of domestic oranges due to a freeze years ago in Florida. Even though they were first brought to the US in the 1980s, it took almost a decade before the clementine became popular.

Although clementines are now available for a longer season than in the past, traditionally clementines came home from the grocery store during the Christmas season, being carried through the snow by someone wearing mitts and boots. In spite of that, most people really looked forward to seeing them.

Some things don’t change. There’s something special about clementines. Although all citrus fruits are eaten more throughout the winter, clementines are especially popular. For one reason, they’re seedless, so there’s no careful chewing necessary (and no spitting required). For another, their skin is loose so they are very easy to peel. And with this self-contained protective packaging, they’re easy to take along with you. These three factors alone make them an excellent snack to enjoy in your truck.

They’re certainly better than a donut, bag of chips or a chocolate bar. They don’t have the fat of those snacks, and have just a fraction of the calories. Depending on their size, one clementine has between 35-70 calories compared to a chocolate bar with 200-500, or a bag of chips with 10 calories per chip (ever counted how many chips are in a bag? You’d be shocked!) You don’t even want to think about how many calories are in a donut! And how about the fat? Chips, chocolate bars and donut have lots, but clementines have hardly any (and no added sugar).

If you have a sweet tooth and are dying for something sweet, eat a clementine to take the edge off your craving. Because it is actually a cross between a mandarin and the Seville orange, it is quite sweet. But, reach for a small one, they’re usually the sweetest! Not only do they taste sweet, but they’re packed with goodness. Studies show that eating citrus helps reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and hypertension because of the Vitamin C it contains. Clementines also have a healthy dose of anti-oxidants, potassium, beta-carotene, fiber, calcium and folic acid.

They’re also very juicy and will help keep you hydrated when the hot air from the heater blows in your face all winter long.

Although clementines come from many countries (including some from the States and Mexico), we usually see ones from Spain on our grocery shelves between November and March.

The best time to eat them is during December and January because they get sweeter and sweeter as their season progresses and they reach their peak sweetness by December.

In fact, clementines from Spain have continued to grow in popularity in North America, where they have become the most prominent fruit from the Mediterranean region.

When shopping for them out at the grocery store, choose fruit with a bright, shiny skin. Also, pay attention to the colour of the skin. You want them bright orange, not pale yellow (or they’ve been picked too early). As well, take the time to smell them. If they smell musty, they’re going bad. Give them a gentle squeeze. If they’re hard, they’re not going to be very juicy. When you gently press the skin, the clementine should indent slightly.

Don’t be afraid to look at all the fruit in the crate. You don’t want to discover any hidden, rotten secrets underneath the healthy fruit on top once you get home. As well, it’s best if all the fruit in the crate is the same colour. This shows you that the fruit was picked at the same level of maturity and so will be ready at the same time.

At home, why not get creative in the kitchen and whip up something special? Add clementines wherever you would use oranges: in Jell-O, pudding, custard, fruit salad or fruit cups. Since they’re easy to peel and seedless, they’ll make your culinary inventions a little easier. You might even add a few slices to decorate your holiday punch.

Definitely, this is the season to enjoy clementines. Even though many people have adopted the tradition of tucking a few in the Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve, why wait? Give yourself a present today and pack a few in your lunch box. It’ll make today’s trip a little sweeter.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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