What is a Satsuma?

Have you ever tasted an Orange Satsuma? If you haven’t, you are missing out on this sweet and juicy citrus fruit. But what are Satsumas and where do Satsumas come from?

The Satsuma is a specific type of mandarin orange said to have originated in Japan 700 years ago. It was named after Satsuma (a province of Japan now named Kagoshima Prefecture) from where the wife of a United States minister to Japan, General Van Valkenberg, sent the trees to the West. 

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The Satsuma

The Satsuma tree is a low-growing small-to-medium-sized tree with an open, spreading, and drooping growth habit. The tree is nearly thornless and makes a good addition to gardens if you have kids or pets at home. Moreover, Satsuma varieties are cold hardy and resistant to unfavorable conditions, although they are susceptible to sour orange scab fungal disease.

The Satsuma Mandarin Orange is medium-small and shaped like a flatted sphere. It is known for its loose, leathery skin that is easy to peel making it a favorite among kids and adults alike. The reddish-orange flesh of the Satsuma orange is typically seedless (0 to 6 seeds per fruit) and is separated into 10 to 12 loose segments. The flesh is juicy and offers a balanced sweet-tart flavor that is so delectable it can be used in savory dishes and desserts.

Types of Satsumas      

There are over 100 Satsuma cultivars that have resulted from years of controlled pollinations. These cultivars vary in the date of maturity, color, the shape of the fruit, and quality. However, not all of them are grown commercially.

Owari Satsuma – The most common and most popular Satsuma cultivar grown in the United States. The standard tree can grow to up to 12 feet tall, while the dwarf-type only grows to up to 6 feet in height. The Owari cultivar is slow growing with a spreading growth habit and bears firm sweet and tasty fruits that are in season from October to November. Owari Satsumas are great for eating fresh out of hand and for canning.

Silverhill Satsuma – Silverhill is a variety seedling selection of Owari created by the USDA in Florida in 1908. The tree has an upright growth habit and is more cold tolerant than the regular Owari cultivar. The standard Silverhill Satsuma can grow to up to 15 feet tall and its dwarf counterpart can grow 6 up to 8 feet high. The fruits produced by Silverhill are more oblate that other Satsuma cultivars and overly sweet as they contain high sugar levels and low acid content.

Brown Select Satsuma – The Brown Select Satsuma tree is slightly larger than the Owari Satsuma tree. It is also less droopy than other types and has a dense growth habit. The fruit produced by this cultivar has leathery skin, is easy to peel, and offers an acidic-sweet flavor. Brown Select Satsumas are available from October to November.

If you want to grow your own Satsuma tree but don’t know where to get them, you can call a reputable citrus nursery and check if they are carrying Satsuma cultivars.