Just like corn, bananas, and essentially any other plant we cultivate, the Cutie mandarin is the result of a concerted effort to produce an ideal food. Mandarin oranges come from wild orange trees that grew in India, possibly as long as three millennia ago. Introduced to the West in the 19th century, the mandarin has since been carefully bred, even irradiated, to bring tasty new mutations to market.
The Cutie’s peel comes off like zipper. The fruit is small, seedless, and sugar-sweet. Gone is the hassle of wrangling with a tough peel, or spitting out pips with every bite. The Cutie is, in fact, about as close to a candy bar as a fruit can get. There’s even a saccharine marketing campaign to go along with them: Cuties are made for kids.
The mandarin’s perfection, however, dispenses with a relationship that’s as old as flowering plants. Like all citrus, Cuties produce seeds when they’re pollinated. To produce a dependable snack, Cutie growers must protect their orchards from bees and other pollinators via nets, physical isolation, or other means. Effectively fencing out bees from huge sources of nectar, this widespread farming practice may be a contributing factor to hive collapse. Developers of the Tango, another mandarin variety, have bypassed this issue by producing a completely sterile fruit.
Via Smithsonian Magazine.