This is the unlikely story of how dried mandarin oranges, a preserved fruit option that most hikers have never even tried before, crushed the competition and were indisputably crowned as the most delicious dried fruit to take backpacking. While I continue to shun eating most dried fruits at home (similar to energy bars, oat meal, trail mixes), I still hold these gosh darn mandarins in the highest possible snacking regard, and I continue to enjoy them in any context or setting.
So how did all of this come about? It starts with The Tournament of Dried Fruits - a wacky idea that I executed, in which sixteen dehydrated, fruit contestants would meet seven hungry judges in a single elimination, head to head bracket on a backpacking trip in Northern California’s Trinity Alps, ala March Madness Style.
Logistically speaking, it went down like this: Each night after dinner, the group would gather to judge and enjoy a few rounds of tournament play. Following classic bracket methodology, two dried fruit options would be taste tested by the group. A vote would follow to measure people’s preferences, and the winner would move on to the next round. The losing fruit could then be added back into each hiker’s snack bag to be eaten on their own schedule.
The contestants were as follows, and seeded (no pun intended) based loosely on their prevalence in my impression of popularity among hikers: (1) Mango, (2) Banana Chip, (3) Cranberry, (4) Apricot, (5) Raisin, (6) Apple, (7) Pineapple, (8) Papaya, (9) Cherry, (11) coconut, (12) blueberry, (13) mandarin orange, (14) baby banana, (15) date, (16) peach.
I won’t bore you with a round by round tournament recap, but I will note that Team Mandarins swept the floor with the competition, never receiving less than five of seven votes in head to head taste testing, and easily took down apricots in the Sweet Sixteen, prunes in the Elite Eight, mangos in the Final Four, and dates in the finals.
So what makes this particular dried fruit so delicious? I’m no expert taste tester, but I can say that they always deliver a lip smacking blend of sweet, tart, juicy, and chewy that no other fruit quite matches. Besides candy, citrus flavor is sorely lacking in the backpackers diet, which puts mandarins in a league all of their own. While certainly not the most nutritious option available, they do offer some fiber and a nice quick sugary energy boost.
Want to win friends and influence people? Why not start by packing dried mandarins? They aren’t stocked at most grocery stores, unfortunately, but you can find them at Trader Joes, and they can definitely be ordered online. What’s more, if you ever get a chance to hike in a large group, I highly recommend conducting a snack tournament of your own. This coming summer, I think we’ll go nuts (pun intended)! Happy trails, happy hiking, and most of all, happy snacking!