Media buzzing over mandarin health benefits

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With sniffles and coughs heralding the start of cold season, word of Placer County’s super fruit is going viral on a national scale. Placer County’s mandarin orange crop is front and center this weekend at Auburn’s Gold Country Fairgrounds during the 15th annual Mountain Mandarin Festival. At the same time, new scientific evidence that the local crop contains cold- and allergy-fighting synephrine levels is breaking through on news fronts and through word-of-mouth around the country. Auburn’s Joanne Neft, a Placer County agriculture advocate, spearheaded the drive to pay for U.S. Department of Agriculture lab tests earlier this year that confirmed high synephrine levels in the local crop. On Wednesday, Neft could tally segments on TV stations in at least 18 states touting Placer County mandarins as a natural product that can help relieve the symptoms of colds and allergies. From Hawaii to Maine, the American public has been learning something Neft said she has known for years from personal experience. An initial televised segment on Sacramento’s KCRA Channel 3 led to other stations airing pieces on a locally grown product now gaining a reputation as a super fruit. And that information is spreading from the airwaves into the general population by word-of-mouth, Neft said. “It’s playing all over the country,” Neft said. “Everyone’s picking it up because it’s great news. It’s flu season.” A Google news search Thursday showed the televised report that originally aired in Sacramento now has played on stations in Florida, South Carolina, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Texas, New Hampshire, Arizona, Washington state, Georgia and North Carolina, as well as California, Hawaii and Maine. Neft is interviewed in the segment and has received calls from out-of-state friends pointing out that they’ve seen her on TV, peeking out from between mandarin branches as she praises their health benefits. “I’m getting known as the gray-haired lady who loves mandarins – and I’m thrilled,” Neft said. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather be known as.” Neft said she knew word of Placer’s mandarins were going viral when a friend called from St. Louis to say she was at her hairdresser’s and, when she took out a mandarin to eat, the woman who was cutting her hair said she had just heard that mandarins were good for colds. Tony Aguilar, a Penryn mandarin grower, said he’s noticed an uptick in demand since the study’s results were made public in late summer. “We’re getting calls from all over to ship them some fruit,” he said. “Everything has been brisk since that study came out.” Neft said she’s already raising funds for a second study that will determine how long mandarin-derived synephrine stays in the blood. She suspects it will match the effect of over-the-counter cold products that usually last about four hours. An eight-to-10 ounce serving of juice has a level of synephrine equal to a tablet of over-the-counter decongestant, Neft said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at Mountain Mandarin Festival When: Noon to 5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn. Admission: $1 Friday for ages 16 and up. Admission Saturday and Sunday is $5 for ages 16 and older, $3 for ages 60 and over.