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How mandarins became a holiday stocking staple | Bartell's Backroads

Here's how the sweet and easy-to-peel fruit makes it in your stocking. This year, billions of the tiny oranges will come from California.

DELANO, Calif. — As Christmas legend goes, Old Saint Nick once visited the home of a poor father and his three unmarried daughters. To help them through hard times, Santa put gold balls into the daughters’ stockings, which were drying on the fireplace. In honor of the legend, many parents began gifting oranges or mandarins instead of gold balls.

Today, many continue the citrus gifting tradition and many of those mandarins come from the Wonderful Halos fruit packing plant off Highway 99 in Delano, California. Senior vice president of sales, David Rooke, says a Halo is a specially grown, easy-to-peel breed of mandarin or clementine, and 52 weeks out of the year workers at the Delano facility use high-tech machines to sort, clean and pack the sweet, seedless citrus. 

Credit: ABC10 / Rachel Kim
Mandarins being packed at the Wonderful Halos plant in Delano, CA.

“People have grown up getting a mandarin in their stocking, and so Christmas in retail is the largest time when mandarins are purchased and consumed,” said Rooke. “This year's crop, we will have about 79 million cartons, which equates to about seven billion pieces of fruit.”

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California accounts for about 62 percent of the United States' total citrus production, much of which is grown in the San Joaquin Valley. To set their citrus apart from the rest, the Wonderful Company claims to grow the sweetest mandarins in the world. 

“Brix with an ‘X’ is the sweetness content. It’s how we measure sweetness,” said Rooke. “We think sweetness sells. These are the world's sweetest mandarins. The higher the sweetness, the higher the BRIX level.”

The world of citrus has become very scientific. Rooke says the average grocery story fruit has a Brix level, or sweetness level, of about 9 or 10 percent Brix. Halos have a Brix of about 13 percent.

Unfortunately, the science behind the sweetness doesn’t translate to the difficult to open mesh packaging citrus comes in.

“Well if you rip it open and they go everywhere, then you have to eat it all at once and that is what we like," joked Rooke.

GROWING STRONG OVER 160 YEARS LATER: California's first orange tree still producing fruit in Oroville. 

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