Jeju mandarin oranges, Jeju, South Korea
I first came to Korea in April of 2007 to stay with friends at their organic Mandarin orange farm near Seogwipo. At that time the trees were lush and green with leaves and held just a hint of the buds that were to become white flowers. I discovered that the Mandarin orange, often called a tangerine, is the favorite gift during the Lunar New Year in Korea to usher in prosperity and good fortune.
I returned to Jeju in August and ran into the heavy, hot days of summer, and lots of wind and rain. How could the tangerines survive Typhoon Nari? Not only did they survive, they thrived, resulting in an abundant harvest that this year surpassed the needs of the market. Also, there was an abundance of other fruits, like apples and persimmons, that helped sate the appetite of the consumers.
This year’s low market price for the Mandarins has led the farmers and political figures on Jeju to begin looking at a long-term plan. The local government is suggesting that the farmers replace their trees with another crop that will be more successful in the changing market. The FTA plays a role in all of this as many varieties of oranges are already coming into Korea from some countries, like Chile, and soon the American oranges will be arriving in Korea. It appears that the Mandarin orange of Jeju may become a thing of the past. Or will it?
One might wonder about the quality and nutrition of fruit shipped half way around the world to that of local fruit. Furthermore, the depletion of the soil content in the U.S. has caused up to an 85% reduction in nutrient content there. In comparison, Jeju soil is still rich with nutrients. The quality of soil content is reflected in the nutritional content of the fruit, and the time it is in storage while being transported increases its rate of depletion in nutritional value. For Korea, the best choice for good health might be the Jeju Mandarin Orange.
Oranges are known for their Vitamin C content, but these Mandarin’s are particularly helpful in cleaning the liver, and for reducing the risk of cancer, and organic Mandarin orange farming is becoming more popular on Jeju, especially among health-conscious individuals. One Mandarin orange provides 116% of the daily value of Vitamin C and reduces the risk of colon cancer. The peel is full of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Organic oranges use no chemical pesticides or chemical fertilizers, making their peels most useful for teas.
The growth from spring to winter of the Mandarin orange parallels my own intimate relationship with Jeju. With this winter’s harvest and the coming of the Lunar New Year, I have begun to feel more at home with the land and people here. Sitting with new friends at a stone house recently, we sipped tea made from organic Mandarins as thinly sliced organic peels dried on a cloth nearby. The air was refreshing with this sweet nectar of the Mandarin orange. I don’t think any other fruit will ever taste as sweet as this Jeju Mandarin, a symbol of this island that has claimed my heart. May the blessings of prosperity and good fortune be with us all in this year of the abundant harvest.