The Good, the Glad & the Ugly – Introducing: Dracula Citrus™ “Mega Mandy” Dekopon Mandarins
Bulldogs, sloths, Shrek, the Xmas jumper your Nana knitted for you when you were 17. If you look hard enough, you’ll find that the world is full of things that are so ugly that they’re actually kinda cute.
The Japanese even have a word for it: ブサカワ – “Busakawa”, which is a literal mashup of the words ugly (busai) and cute (kawaii). Not much of a surprise for the land that brought us Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, sadomasochistic game shows and where “will you wash my underwear every day” is a legitimate form of marriage proposal.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the devilishly delicious but blood-curdlingly ugly fruit that’s taking the world by storm first emerged in the Land of the Rising Sun. You may not have heard of the Dekopon Mandarin, but chances are you’ve seen the misshapen, pockmarked skin lurking on your supermarket shelves.
The Dekopon is one of the more famous examples of “Franken-Fruit” – a name that fits perfectly, given that they look like they crawled out of the secret lab of an evil scientific mastermind. Like other Franken-Fruit (for example, pluots, apriums and Asian pears), Dekopons are technically genetically modified – but the old-fashioned way, via careful hybridisation and grafting techniques that humans have been employing for centuries.
So, What Is a Dekopon, Exactly?
A fair question!
Our knobbly-skinned friend is a variety of Satsuma Orange. Fierce international rivalry originally raged over whether Satsumas, which have been around since the 17th century, originated in Japan or China. Genetic testing has put this existential horticultural debate to rest, tracing them back to the Satsuma region of the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.
More specifically, Dekopons are a hybrid of Kiyomi and Ponkan (also known as Chinese Honey Oranges), carefully cross-bred to produce a deliciously sweet, seedless fruit with low acidity and easy-to-peel skin. They also lack albedo, and no, that doesn’t mean they’re unadventurous lovers. Albedo is that annoying white netting-like substance that clings to the membrane of citrus fruits. The thinking was that this would be a strong selling point in Japan, where the locals typically spend more time painstakingly removing it than eating the fruit.
When they debuted in 1972, they didn’t arouse much excitement. Apparently, looking like you’ve just barely survived a vicious case of smallpox did not make for winning marketing aesthetics. However, like a good-natured mutt, once people managed to look past the exterior and see the sweetness inside, they started to take off. Maybe it was the low albedo?
Since then, Dekopons have grown in popularity to become the 3rd most highly cultivated citrus crop in Japan, outstripping their progenitor Ponkans by over 50%. Once the rest of the world got a taste for the delicate goodness, Dekopon orchards started to spring up as far away as Brazil, the USA, and of course, Australia.
Where Does the Name “Dekopon” Come From?
Fittingly for a hybrid (Kiyomi and Ponkan are also hybrids, so it’s kind of a family tradition, so to speak), the name “Dekopon” is a combination of the word Japanese word for “convex” and the first syllable of the mother’s side of the family, the Ponkan. If you’re confused about the relationship with the word “convex”, it may make more sense to compare the Japanese word “凸” with the shape of the fruit, particularly the protruding and mildly disconcerting tip. Now that you know all this, you can impress your friends with your newfound Japanese prowess by telling them, “Dekopons are TOTALLY busakawa!”
Is the Dekopon an Orange or a Mandarin?
Like any dysfunctional family, the answer to this one is less than straightforward.
Tracing the family tree, we find that the Dekopon bloodlines are distinctly murky. The Kiyomi is descended from regular oranges on one side and Mikan on the other. While frequently referred to as a mandarin breed, Mikans are a separate species. Meanwhile, the blood on the father’s side of the family is hardly any bluer. Ponkan are themselves a somewhat counter-intuitive love child of dainty mandarins and gargantuan Pomelos. Think of what you would get if a great dane procreated with a dachshund, and you’ll more or less get the picture.
In conclusion, you could say that figuring this thorny question out is like trying to determine whether the person sitting next to you at the Colt family reunion is your sibling or your cousin; more than likely, the answer is a bit of both.
Dekopons in Australia
It may seem like Dekopons appeared overnight. However, you’d be surprised to know that they’ve been growing on our shores for almost 20 years. The first stock took root in the New South Wales Riverina region in 2003. They found the conditions very much to their liking (hey, it’s Australia. Even the bloody fruit loves it here!) and have thrived ever since.
While the first commercial crops hit the market in 2011, it wasn’t until 2018 that the bulk of the Aussie trees started to hit maturity and bear significant fruit. Volumes grew exponentially from then, so if you were wondering why you never heard of Dekopons until the last few years and now you feel like you see them everywhere – now you know!
Welcoming Dekopons to the Dracula Citrus™ Family
Born in a laboratory in the land that gave us Godzilla Vs Mothra? An insidiously mangled family tree with more twists and turns than a Steven King novel? The looks of a fruit that appears to have been designed after someone spiked the punch at the annual meeting of the new fruits subcommittee of the Japanese Horticultural Society with a dodgy batch of sake?
Sounds like the new addition to the Dracula Citrus™ product lineup! Dracula Citrus™ Dekopons are already available at Costco. We call them Mega Mandys, and only the sweetest, juiciest, most delicious specimens make it out of Dracula’s castle door.
Next time you’re in Costco, take a moment to introduce yourself and your family to our newest character, Drac’s long-lost cousin Dex. Like our Mega Mandys, he may look like a science experiment gone wrong, but he’s truly a big softy deep at heart.
If indeed he has a heart… <cue evil vampire laughter>