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Why do mandarins give you sore throats but oranges don’t? We found out.

It’s almost Chinese New Year, which means FOOOOOD! Well, of course there’ll be other stuff too like angpao, family, mahjong and red clothing everywhere, but let’s face it – we’re all waiting for CNY for the food.

Are y'all ready to toss some Chinese salad? Image from Discover SG

Are y’all ready to toss some Chinese salad? Image from Discover SG

But right, when you actually look at all the food available, from cookies to groundnuts to roast meats, they all usually fall into the category of ‘heaty’ or ‘yeet hei’ food *dabs*. Eat too much sure got post-CNY hangover with sore throats and mild coughing all around. But there’s also one other food that doesn’t normally make you think it’ll cause you to be a pony little hoarse – the mandarin orange.

Would a mandarin-flavoured Strepsil work? Image from Think Fresh

Would a mandarin-flavoured Strepsil work? Image from Think Fresh

This writer has personally avoided the mandarin for years now, while some in the Cilisos office have even called in sick after eating too many of them. When you’re sitting in the living room chatting to family members you seldom see, you’re usually nibbling on a mandarin too, meaning you’d probably never realise just how many of them you’re eating. Don’t just take it from us too, as some health blogs have also noticed the mandarin causing a sore throat.

“Usually Mandarin oranges or “kam” are available during this Chinese New Year session- during other times of the year, only the smaller versions are sold. However, for years I’ve noticed that a number of people develop throat irritation and itchiness after eating mandarin oranges,” – Yin Teing, health blogger, as quoted from Health Blog

Being the Pulitzer-award winning journalists that we totally are #sarcasm, we decided to look around and find out what exactly is causing all of this. And one big reason why could be the preservatives in the fruit – sulphur dioxide.


Sulphur dioxide is a preservative that can be DANGEROUS in large amounts

So that same health blog that noticed sore throats following mandarin oranges hinted that it could’ve been due to the preservatives used in mandarin oranges. As such, we did a lil digging and found that mandarin oranges might be preserved using sulphur dioxide, compared to typical oranges and other citruses that usually get a thin coat of wax over the skin only. The use of sulphur in mandarins was even part of a hugely viral FB status a few Chinese New Years back:

Screenshot from Lowyat forums

Screenshot from Lowyat forums

This caused a huge uproar not just here, but throughout the region. Singaporean authorities even had to give a statement to clear the fuss, claiming that yes, the mandarin oranges being sold there do in fact have sulphur dioxide in them, albeit in safe to consume amounts. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) pointed out that sulphur dioxide’s use is allowed on ‘fresh, whole and unpeeled fruits’, which kinda also covers your standard mandarin oranges laa.

“The safety of its use has been established by the Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)/World Health Organisation (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives, an international scientific panel,” – Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore in 2017, as quoted by Straits Times

But it might just be Singapore being kiasu and wanting their fruits to look fresher right? Well, maybe, seeing as around the same time, Malaysian authorities also gave a statement, saying that mandarin oranges sold here DO NOT contain sulphur dioxide in them. That being said, the Health Ministry did add that they came to that conclusion based on tests conducted from 2015 to 2016.

We don't think they did surgery on a mandarin tho. GIF from Buzzfeed

We don’t think they did surgery on a mandarin tho. GIF from Buzzfeed

Furthermore, health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah also pointed out that sulphur dioxide is allowed as a preservative as long as it’s not more than 30mg/kg and that the labels must say that it contains sulphur dioxide.

“Sulphur dioxide has been analysed and confirmed safe for use in food at a certain rate… Sulphur dioxide is not hazardous to humans when used at permissible levels but it can cause breathlessness in people sensitive to the gas when inhaled or swallowed,” –  Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah in 2017, as quoted by Malay Mail

Maybe having one bad mandarin in the box isn't so bad if it means the box is sulphur dioxide-free

Maybe having one bad mandarin in the box isn’t so bad if it means they’re sulphur dioxide-free

Okay so the mandarins we consume might have sulphur dioxide (check the labels!), but what about it makes it so bad for us anyway? Well consuming or inhaling too much sulphur dioxide can cause things such as sore throat, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and breathing problems. It gets worse if you have asthma too; you’re much more likely to have a reaction to sulphur dioxide if you’re asthmatic, and might develop wheezing, hivesbronchospasm and bronchitis. It probably also doesn’t help that dried fruits also contain plenty of sulphur dioxide, so if you have asthma you might wanna stop eating that too.

All Squidward wanted in life was an inhaler

All Squidward wanted was a mandarin.

That being said, while the standard orange might not contain sulphur dioxide and thus not cause sore throats and coughing, you might still wanna avoid them anyway. In fact…


You should probably avoid citrus fruits in general if you have a sore throat

Now we know most of y’all will get a plate of cut and peeled fruits from your mum after dinner as a sign that she loves y’all, but you might want to skip on not just the mandarins but oranges as well.

Despite what the message your second grand aunt forwarded to you on Whatsapp says, not all fruits are made equal. Some fruits, like the durian for example, are known to inflame a sore throat, but even the common orange can do that. This is cause while the vitamin C in these fruits are pretty good for you, the citric acid might do more harm than good when you have a sore throat. Prominent vegan-advocate and medical doctor Michael Kapler also adds that if you’re having a sore throat, skip on the acidic stuff altogether.

“Do not burn your inflamed throat membranes with acid liquids! Avoid orange juice (yes, orange juice!), citrus, pineapple, cola drinks, or any liquid that is acidic in nature, until your throat is pain-free,” – Dr Kapler, as quoted from his personal site

That being said, the best way to keep yourself healthy this Chinese New Year is perhaps to remember to just eat in moderation. You can still eat your pineapple tarts and drink your sodas, as long as you don’t overeat. And yeah, if you have asthma, maybe not too many mandarins laa k.

So o-range you glad you know this now? The mandarin may be a-peeling, but don’t end up sick over it yeah. Happy Chinese New Year!

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