The Satsuma also known as Unshiu Mikan, Is considered to have originated from a variant of the Bendiguanchu a local mandarin from the Zhejiang province of China around the mid-sixth century. Interestingly it was given its name satsuma in 1878 by the wife of the United States minister to Japan, General Van Valkenberg.
Until the 1980’s it was typically only Japan and Spain that grew this variety, we can now see them being grown in China, Turkey, California, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa.
From the hundreds of varieties of Mandarin, the Satsuma is the only of them that has the cold-hardiness that the satsuma has, which is why it grows well in China, Japan, Uruguay and Argentina as they have very cool winters. This differs from the summer months from Spain, as in Korea and China in they have Hot rain-free summers, cultivating the right varieties around the world produces good fruit globally.
The Satsuma has been generally founded on the Owari variety. Spain has replaced the Clausellina with the better quality Japanese Okitsu. Growers are constantly developing new streams of varieties to extend seasons, starting earlier and finishing later.
Sophisticated storage programmes are also used to extend the seasons by four months in heated plastic houses called ‘house mikan’.
Satsuma mandarins are great for juicing, canning in syrup as this variety is seedless.
Satsuma varieties are grouped according to their time of maturity.
For example, the Hashimoto was discovered in 1963 on a mature Matsuyama tree by M. Hashimoto.
This variety matures much earlier due to its high Brix(sugar levels) and a faster decline in acidity. It bears poor quality fruit in deep fertile soil but prefers gravelly sloping sites. It needs harvesting quickly once mature as the fruit deteriorates quickly, but it does ripen up to 20 days ahead of the Okitsu variety. For this reason, it was introduced in Spain in 1995. It’s a good characteristic commercially when there is only the expensive Southern hemisphere fruit about.