Mandarin Orange

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 9 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
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Common Allergen: No
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two mandarin oranges before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat mandarins?

Mandarins, because they are a choking hazard and must be cut into small pieces that are challenging for young babies to pick up, are best introduced around 9 months of age when the pincer grasp develops.

Background and origins of mandarins

Mandarins are on the smaller side with sweet, juicy flesh that is less acidic than your typical navel orange. Almost all mandarins have very thin, easy-to-peel skin, which ranges in color from red to orange to yellow to green. They are native to China and are believed to be one of the original wild citrus species—along with citron and pomelo—from which all other cultivated citrus fruits have been bred. The mandarin’s descendants are many, including blood oranges, clementines, grapefruit, satsumas, sour oranges, sweet oranges, tangelos, tangerines, and uglifruit to name a few. Brazil, California, Morocco, Spain, and Turkey produce most of the world’s commercially cultivated mandarins, which are celebrated as a symbol of good fortune during the Lunar New Year and gifted at Christmastime in the United States and other countries.

Mandarins are often eaten fresh or squeezed for their sweet juice, but the citrus is also used to make essence, oil, peel, and more. For our purposes, the information here is about the fruit itself. Check out how to safely introduce mandarins to babies.

★Tip: While some mandarins are seedless thanks to hybridization, there are still plenty of varieties with seeds on the market. Keep an eye out for seeds and take care to remove them before serving.

Hawii, 11 months, eats mandarin oranges removed from the membrane.
Callie, 12 months, eats mandarin oranges cut into bite-size pieces.

Are mandarins healthy for babies?

Yes. Mandarins contain tons of vitamin C, which powers your baby’s immune system and aids the absorption of iron from plant foods like beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Mandarins also contain B-vitamins (including folate), plenty of beta carotene (which converts to vitamin A), and many other beneficial plant nutrients like carotenoids and phenols.1 These nutrients work together to promote healthy growth, development, and vision. The pulp also contains fiber to promote gut health. What’s more is that mandarins contain a particular carotenoid called beta-cryptoxanthin, which offers antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory benefits (and more).2 3

Are canned mandarins okay? Yes, but try to choose fresh fruit when possible. Canned fruit is often soaked in a lye solution to remove the fruit skins and usually contains added sugar (which often shows up as “100% fruit juice” for preservation.4 Food preferences start early, and kids who are regularly offered canned fruit (which is softer and sweeter) naturally learn to love it. Of course, fruit is better than no fruit. Do what you can with the budget and resources available to you.

★Tip: Like grapefruit, mandarins may interact with medications.5 If your child is taking medications, consider talking to your child’s health care provider to learn more.

Can babies drink mandarin juice?

No. Juice of any kind should not be given to babies unless directed to do so by a health provider. After the first birthday, small amounts of juice (less than 4 ounces a day, ideally diluted with water to reduce sweetness) may be safely offered.6 That said, we believe that it is best to wait to serve juice until age two and even then, to limit the amount offered to minimize sugar (including natural sugar) in your child’s diet. Regular and especially excessive consumption of sweet beverages (even naturally sweet drinks like orange juice) may reduce the diversity of foods and nutrients consumed and increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and dental caries.7 Plus, whole oranges are more nutritious than juice.

Are mandarins a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. Citrus segments (if left in the surrounding membrane) and seeds are choking hazards for babies and children. To minimize the risk, cut mandarins flesh away from the papery membrane and serve as bite size pieces (see video). Note that juicy fruits like clementines may cause a fair amount of coughing as baby learns to eat it. This is because the juice shoots out of the fruit under pressure, which can be tricky for babies to learn to manage. While this is generally not a concern and resolves with practice and time, be prepared for some coughing and gagging.

As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment, stay within an arm’s reach of your baby during meals, and never put cow milk in a bottle or sippy cup. For more information, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with common choking hazards.

Are mandarins a common allergen?

No. However, self-reported sensitivity to citrus is described frequently in medical literature around the world. Individuals with Oral Allergy Syndrome (also called pollen-food allergy syndrome) may be sensitive to citrus fruit such as mandarins.8 9 In particular, individuals who are sensitive to grass and certain tree pollens may also be more sensitive to citrus fruits.10 Oral Allergy Syndrome typically results in short-lived itching in the mouth and is unlikely to result in a dangerous reaction.

In some cases, allergy to proteins in orange can result in serious reactions. There is evidence to suggest that the major allergens causing serious allergic reactions to mandarins (and oranges) are concentrated within the seed of the fruit—and while uncommon, chewing the seeds may be responsible for allergic reactions.11

There are also reports of mandarin (and oranges) ingestion contributing to eczema.12 In addition to being sweet, many oranges are also acidic, and the acid in citrus fruit can cause a harmless rash on the skin, typically around the mouth. It usually dissipates shortly after it shows up.

As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first couple of servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.

How to cut mandarins for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 9 months old: Consider waiting and opt for large wedges of orange on the peel. For mandarins to be safe for babies, the flesh must be cut out of the papery membrane, which yields very small pieces of fruit, which will be frustrating for baby to try to pick up on their own. If you are set on serving mandarins at this age, remove the fruit from the membrane, flatten with the back of a fork, and serve atop some yogurt or other scoopable food in a bowl that suctions to the table and encourage baby to scoop with their hands.

9 to 18 months old: Remove each segment from the papery membrane (see video) and offer as bite-size finger food pieces. Remember that mandarins, clementines, and other small citrus fruit segments left in their membrane can be a choking hazard, so when in doubt, remove the fruit from the membrane.

18 to 24 months old: Graduation time! If you feel comfortable with your toddler’s chewing and swallowing skills, consider offering mandarin segments with the membrane left intact cut in half. Once the child has demonstrated that they can chew these pieces, consider working up to whole mandarin segments, coaching your child to take a bite (rather than popping the whole segment into their mouth.) Of course, you can also continue to offer bite-sized pieces of segments with the membranes removed and large sections of orange on the peel for biting and tearing practice. Around age 2 you may find your child is ready to learn how to peel a whole mandarin. This is a terrific activity of fine motor skills!

For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.

Recipe: Cranberry Orange Sauce on Greek Yogurt

bowl of Greek yogurt topped with a mandarin orange/cranberry sauce, sitting on a countertop

Yield: 1 cup
Time: 20 minutes
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

  • 4 mandarins
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1 pinch ground Ceylon cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg
  • ½ cup unsweetened full-fat yogurt of choice
  • ½ teaspoon ground hazelnut (optional)

Directions

  1. Wash and dry the mandarins.
  2. Squeeze the juice from 2 mandarins into a small saucepan. Peel and compost the skin and inner pith from the remaining mandarin, then peel off the membranes from each segment and compost any seeds. Set the mandarin segments aside.
  3. Wash the cranberries and compost any stems and leaves.
  4. Add the cranberries, coconut oil, and 2 tablespoons of water to the saucepan with the mandarin juice. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to create a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered until the cranberries have burst and released their juice, about 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the reserved mandarin segments, taking care to make sure that all membranes and seeds have been removed. Add the spice if you’d like to add an extra layer of flavor. Let cool to room temperature.
  6. Scoop the yogurt into baby’s bowl. Scoop half the cranberry mandarin sauce on top and store the rest for future meals. Sprinkle the ground hazelnuts on top of the dish.
  7. Serve: Place the bowl in front of your child and rest a spoon on the side. Let baby hand-scoop and encourage utensil practice by pre-loading the spoon and hand it in the air for your baby to grab.

To Store

Cranberry mandarin sauce keeps in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

This recipe contains common allergens: dairy and tree nuts (hazelnuts). Only serve to your child after these individual allergens have been introduced safely.

Flavor Pairings

Mandarins are sweet and tangy—flavors that pair well with hearty fats in almond, bacon, beef, and walnuts; briny foods like olives and sardines; warm spices like cardamom, cloves, coriander, saffron, and vanilla; and fresh herbs like cilantro and mint. Try serving oranges alongside other fruits and vegetables like beetcarrotdatesfighoneydew melonmangoparsnippeachpineapple, and strawberry.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD

K. Rappaport, OTR/L, MS, SCFES, IBCLC

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. (allergy section)

R. Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1.  Czech, A., Zarycka, E., Yanovych, D., Zasadna, Z., Grzegorczyk, I., Kłys, S. (2020). Mineral Content of the Pulp and Peel of Various Citrus Fruit Cultivars. Biological trace element research, 193(2), 555–563. DOI:10.1007/s12011-019-01727-1. Retrieved September 15, 2020
  2. Goldenberg, L., Yaniv, Y., Porat, R., & Carmi, N. (2018). Mandarin fruit quality: a review. Journal of the science of food and agriculture, 98(1), 18–26. https://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.8495
  3. Jiao, Y., Reuss, L. & Wang, Y. β-Cryptoxanthin: Chemistry, Occurrence, and Potential Health Benefits. Curr Pharmacol Rep 5, 20–34 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40495-019-00168-7
  4. Yadav, A. K., & Singh, S. V. (2014). Osmotic dehydration of fruits and vegetables: a review. Journal of food science and technology, 51(9), 1654–1673. DOI:10.1007/s13197-012-0659-2. Retrieved September 15, 2020
  5. Theile, D., Hohmann, N., Kiemel, D., Gattuso, G., Barreca, D., et al. (2017). Clementine juice has the potential for drug interactions – In vitro comparison with grapefruit and mandarin juice. European journal of pharmaceutical sciences : official journal of the European Federation for Pharmaceutical Sciences, 97, 247–256. DOI:10.1016/j.ejps.2016.11.021. Retrieved November 20, 2020
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics: HealthyChildren.org. (2017). Where We Stand: Fruit Juice. Retrieved September 15, 2020
  7. Fidler Mis, N., Braegger, C., Bronsky, J., Campoy, C., Domellöf, et al. (2017). Sugar in Infants, Children and Adolescents: A Position Paper of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Committee on Nutrition. Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 65(6), 681–696. DOI:10.1097/MPG.0000000000001733. Retrieved September 15, 2020
  8. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) or Pollen Fruit Syndrome (PFS). Retrieved September 15, 2020
  9. Iorio, R.A., Del Duca, S., Calamelli, E., Pula, C., Lodolini, M., (2013). Citrus allergy from pollen to clinical symptoms. PloS one, 8(1), e53680. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0053680. Retrieved November 20, 2020
  10. Iorio, R.A., Del Duca, S., Calamelli, E., Pula, C., Lodolini, M., (2013). Citrus allergy from pollen to clinical symptoms. PloS one, 8(1), e53680. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0053680. Retrieved November 20, 2020
  11. Zhu SL, Ye ST, Yu Y. Allergenicity of orange juice and orange seeds: a clinical study. Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol 1989;7(1):5-8.
  12. Steinman HA, Potter PC. The precipitation of symptoms by common foods in children with atopic dermatitis. Allergy Proc 1994;15(4):203-10.