"Fifteen years ago, people were saying 'What the heck's a pixie tangerine?'" says Robert Schueller, spokesman for Melissa's Produce, a specialty citrus distributor.
According to Schueller, most tangerine fans now know the answer to that question -- and he anticipates a newer tangerine variety now available at Central Market may follow the same path to the mainstream.
Melissa's is the exclusive distributor of Neapolitan tangerines, a Southern California fruit Schueller describes as "extremely sweet and juicy." It also has an intriguing back story; according to a Central Market press release, the farmer who grows Neapolitans in his small Los Angeles County orchard can't account for how the hybrid was created.
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"Our growers want to push the envelope," Schueller elaborates. "When they acquire new acreage, they'll grow some speculative varieties. We measure the scope of the potential of the project."
Schueller says Melissa's approved of the early season tangerine the Los Angeles County farmer delivered, naming it "Neapolitan" in recognition of its full spectrum of flavors. The fruit was first released to the public three years ago. Since then, its growing season has been extended from three weeks to eight weeks. Melissa's is now working to further lengthen its growing season, plant additional trees and widen its distribution.
Schueller says the Neapolitan has the five primary qualities grocery shoppers seek in their citrus: In addition to being sweet and juicy, it's small, seedless and easy to peel.
"It has a lot more growth potential," Schueller says. "This particular fruit has been noted as even more exciting than a Clementine."