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Mandarins’ health benefits creating boom in fruit sales

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With Placer County’s synephrine-rich mandarins still being picked off foothills trees, the so-called super fruit is being touted as the holiday gift of health. Joanne Neft, an Auburn resident who spearheaded a groundbreaking study this year on Satsuma mandarin synephrine content, said that news spreading nationally about the benefits of the locally grown oranges has positioned them as ideal, in-season, health-related gifts. “They’re the perfect host and holiday gift,” Neft said. “They’re the gift of health.” Conducted by the U.S. Depart-ment of Agricul-ture’s Western Regional Research Center in Albany, the study sampled mandarin juice from 10 local orchards and found that synephrine — a major ingredient in over-the-counter cold and allergy suppression medication — was up to six times higher in Satsumas than regular orange products. The study also found that concentrations varied among the groves sampled, “suggesting that factors including microclimate or localized agricultural practices may influence synephrine concentrations.” That variation in foothills microclimates means that while some orchards have already been picked nearly clean, others — like Penryn’s Hillcrest ranch, where Satsumas have been growing since the 1960s — are still harvesting. Owner Steve Pilz said demand is high this year — and with a crop coming in late, pickers were expected to be out today in an attempt to bring in as much as they can before the expected rainstorm hits in the late afternoon. “People are reading about synephrine and purchasing mandarins,” he said. While the ranch is open for people to drop by and purchase mandarins, demand has been so high, they should phone ahead to ensure a bag is ordered and will be available, Pilz said. “We’ll be picking into January, weather permitting,” he said. “But if there’s wind and rain, we may lose a lot of fruit.” At Miller’s Citrus Grove in the Loomis basin, Curt Miller said the synephrine study results really drove business this year. “We saw a 300 percent increase in mail orders,” Miller said. “We’ve had people call and say that they have the sniffles and want a box sent. It really brought in a lot of new customers.” Miller said that while his own crop was off about 80 percent from last year, that’s the way mandarin growth is, with a poor year followed by a bumper crop. Neft found the money for the first study through a variety of farm, business and private sources and is now attempting to help fund a second study to determine how long the naturally occurring synephrine in mandarins stays potent in the blood stream. She’s seeking $100,000 and is about halfway toward her goal, she said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.