Imagine a fruit that tastes like turpentine with a highly fibrous texture that resembles chewing on strands of rope. What you are vicariously experiencing is the wild mango never destined to become a taste sensation like its cultivated cousin.
The earliest mention of mango, Mangifera indica, that means "the great fruit bearer," is in the Hindu scripture dating back to 4000 BCE. The wild mango originated in the foothills of the Himalayas of India and Burma, and about 40 to 60 of these trees still grow in India and Southeast Asia. However, with its tiny fruits, fibrous texture, and unpleasant turpentine taste, there is little resemblance to the superlative mango we have come to enjoy today.
So passionate are modern day Asian Indians about their most adored fruit, the cultivated mango, that during mango season in India, families actually argue heatedly about which of the many varieties is best for their favorite mango dishes. For the rest of us, we're just delighted to welcome mango season, enjoy the luscious tangy fruit that dribbles down our chins, and leave the fisticuffs out of it!As the mango became cultivated, as early as 2000 BCE, its flavor, size, and texture developed into the exotic, richly flavored succulent treat we look forward to each May through September.
The explorers who tasted the mango were enchanted with its aromatic qualities, ambrosial flavor, and creamy, smooth, and silky texture and introduced the fruit to other tropical countries, such as, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines where it has had successful cultivation. As the mango adapted to new locales, new varieties evolved and many names were bestowed upon it such as "apple of the tropics, king of fruits, and fruit of the Gods".
Chinese traveler Hwen T'sang visited India in the first half of the seventh century AD and took the mango back to his home. The Chinese were delighted and began cultivating the magnificent evergreen tree that stands up to 100 feet tall with beautiful, thick, shiny, leathery pointed leaves that grow 8 to 14 inches long. Symmetrical in shape, the mango tree is a beautiful ornamental that is also appreciated for its cooling shade.
Mangoes continued to curry favor everywhere they were cultivated on their journey westward. The seventh century caliphs of Baghdad enjoyed their mangoes in the form of a complex brew that that required six months to a year to fully ferment. The traveling mango then hitched a camel ride from Persia and caravaned to the African continent about the year1,000.
Mangoes were first recorded in Europe by Friar Jordanus in 1328, but Europeans didn't fall in love with them as did countries with tropical climates. Although mangoes are the world's third largest food crop today, they still remain obscure in Europe.
By the sixteenth century the mango had become so revered in India that royalty hoarded the groves solely for the rajas and nawabs. During this same century Portuguese explorers carried the mango to East and West Africa and Brazil. By the eighteenth century the West Indies had met the engaging mango. Today, India's main fruit crop is still the mango that outnumbers all the country's other fruit crops. In fact, India is the world's largest mango producer. In Tamil, the language of Southeastern India, the mango received its original name "mancay or mangay" that later evolved into manga by the Portuguese.
Hawaii, Florida, and Mexico were next on the nineteenth century travel plans for this tropical wonder. Though Florida was growing mangoes on the East Coast in 1825, it wasn't until 1889 that the USDA introduced a special grafted variety from India called Mulgoa or Mulgoba. The Haden variety, developed from the original Mulgoba, has been described as "rich, sweet and spicy, with flesh of melting texture and free of objectionable fibers."
Mangoes lend their tangy sweet flesh to many inventive dishes, especially in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine. During times of famine in India, even the mango seed was eaten after lengthy boiling. In India mangoes are dried, ground into a powder, and used in amchur, a condiment similar to chutney. Jamaicans also dry their mangoes to make a spicy condiment similar to chutney.
India may have been the original inventor of sweet and chewy fruit leathers, which, centuries ago, they began making from ripe mangoes. They're also noted for their mango pickle that can be quite fiery hot and spicy. Indian restaurants today typically feature a beverage called Lassi made with mango, yogurt, sugar, ice and a touch of ground cardamom.
Mango chutney, an Indian condiment made from green mango, brown sugar, vinegar, hot peppers, and ginger is probably the most well known dish that employs the mango.
In their unripe form, mangoes are just as appealing as when fully ripe. Throughout Southeast Asia, green mango salads are common and take on a variety of seasonings that incorporate lime juice, chiles, and rice vinegar. In the Philippines unripe mangoes are enjoyed as a between-meal snack sprinkled with salt or dipped into soy sauce.
In Guadalupe, a city in the central region of Mexico, mangoes are chopped, salted and sprinkled with a little oil and served as a refreshing appetizer.
You may be surprised to note that mangoes are in the sumac family, Anacardiaceae, the same family as pistachios cashews, poison oak and poison ivy.
Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening says,"Propagation is commonly by veneer grafting and budding, and to some extent by inarching, crown grafting, and by seeds."
The trees begin to produce fruit four to six years after planting and continue bearing fruit for about 40 years. To set fruit and produce a successful crop, the trees require tropical areas with defined seasons and a hot dry period typical of India and Southeast Asia where there are monsoon seasons followed by dry seasons. Before the fruit is formed, the trees blossom with tiny, delicate pinkish white flowers. Clusters of mangoes grow from long stems attached to the main branches with each tree producing an average of 100 fruits each year.
Harvesting takes place when fruits are "mature green" to enable them to travel long distances without spoiling. If you are a regular consumer of mangoes, you've probably encountered a few that never seemed to ripen properly. These were simply picked too soon.
With successful cultivation of mangoes throughout the world today, over 1,000 different varieties have been developed with fruits that vary in size from 2" (5 cm) to 10" (25 cm) in length and weigh from 4 oz. (100 g) to 4.5 lbs. (2 kg). The color of the mango's thin, inedible skin varies considerably, depending on variety, from all yellow, red on one side and green on the other, all green with a touch of color, to others that may be quite colorful with areas of red, green, and yellow. Shapes vary from round to oval to elongated, but most of the mangoes that appear in the supermarkets are generally oval and flat sided.
The seed within the mango is unlike any other in the fruit kingdom. It is long, almost the entire length of the mango, and wide, almost the entire width of the fruit. The seed is almost flat in depth and offers a plump, fleshy area of fruit on both flat sides. The seed has fibrous matter clinging to it, but the fruit itself has an intense yellow-orange colored flesh that is creamy, smooth and silky with a sweet, yet tangy flavor.
Typical mango season is from May through September when prices are fairly attractive, with the peak during July and August. With the ease of importing and exporting fruits, mangoes are available throughout the year if one doesn't mind spending the extra dollars when they are out of season.
Mangoes sold in the United States are usually imported from Mexico, Haiti, the Caribbean, and South America. About 10% are grown in Florida and are harvested several times throughout the year.
It is said that the Buddha was given the gift of a whole grove of mango trees where he could rest whenever he wished. From that time on the mango tree was held in awe as capable of granting wishes.
So revered is the mango tree in its home country that it has become a symbol of love. Offerings of mango leaves are presented at wedding ceremonies, a ritual that guarantees the couple will bear many children. In the villages there is a powerful belief that the mango trees grow new leaves each time a son is born. To herald the new birth to their neighbors, doorways are decorated with mango leaves.
Old Sanskrit writings reveal a legend of deep love and beauty that sprang from the mango tree. It was the daughter of the sun, Surya Bai, who transformed herself into a golden lotus to evade persecution of an evil sorceress. The sorceress became angry when the King of the land fell in love with the beautiful lotus, and she burnt it to ashes. Good overcame evil when a magnificent mango tree sprang from the ashes and Surya Bai stepped out from a ripe mango that had fallen to the ground. The King instantly recognized her as his long lost wife, and the two rejoiced.
Studies have shown that foods containing phenolic compounds have powerful antioxidant, anticancer, and anticardiovascular abilities. Mangoes possess the phenols quercetin, isoquercitfin, astragalin, fisetin, gallic acid, and methylgallat.
In India mangoes are used as blood builders. Because of their high iron content they are suggested for treatment of anemia and are beneficial to women during pregnancy and menstruation. People who suffer from muscle cramps, stress, and heart problems can benefit from the high potassium and magnesium content that also helps those with acidosis.
One lab test turned up rather startling results that raised mangoes to the "highest perch." Mango juice was poured into a test tube that contained viruses. Shortly, the viruses were destroyed.
Being of the plant kingdom, mangoes contain no cholesterol or saturated fat and contain only about .6 grams of total fat. Their sodium content ranks low at 4 mg.
Mango is a shining star in the beta carotene realm, summing up at 8061 IU for that same medium size. If you're looking for a boost in potassium, look no further than a medium mango with its 322.92 mg. It's the perfect fruit to replenish energy after heavy physical exercise like jogging or working out. Magnesium content is 18.63 mg.
Mango scores 57.3 mg of vitamin C and offers impressive numbers for vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6. There's even a touch of zinc in our featured fruit, with calcium at 20.7 mg. and iron at .27 mg.
Although these figures will vary with the different varieties and different sizes, there is little doubt that the mango is an exceptional fruit, not only for its high-ranking nutrients, but also for its intense, zesty and delightful flavor that just may taste like paradise itself.
Buying and Storing
When fully ripened, mangoes will give easily to gentle pressure and exude appealing perfume-like fragrance. Store ripe mangoes in the refrigerator, but not for long. They keep well for up to three days.
To encourage the ripening, mangoes can be placed in a paper bag at room temperature for a few days. Since this speeds up the process, be sure to test them daily for ripeness.
If fresh mangoes are unavailable, they can be purchased canned in syrup, pickled, or in the form of mango chutney. When mangoes are out of season, you may find them cubed and bagged in clear plastic in the freezer section of your supermarket or health food store. Dried mango slices are available in most supermarkets as well as health food markets.
When you've purchased unripe mangoes and don't plan to ripen and use them immediately, store them for one to two weeks at 55 degrees F. (12 C.) before setting them out at room temperature.
Stand the mango on its stem end on your cutting board with the flat sides perpendicular to you. Place your knife at the top and slice down to the bottom alongside the seed. Repeat on the other flat side.
The flesh can then be scooped out with a spoon. If you prefer mango cubes, cut crosshatch lines partway through the flesh with the tip of your knife, taking care not to cut through the skin. Then push upward from the skin side to form a convex curve. Carefully cut away the flesh from the skin. In tropical regions people eat the mango cubes right off the skin.
Mangoes can be sliced, diced, and julienned into fruit salads. They make a delightful, tangy addition to tossed green salads, also.
Pureed in the blender, mangoes add delectable sweetness to smoothies and creamy sauces over a fruit salads.
Enjoy a fresh mango chutney with diced mango, diced onions, a touch of vinegar, salt, and diced chiles.
Raw soups enjoy a boost in nutrition and a lively flavor lift with the addition of fresh mangoes
Try diced mangoes on your cereal and use them as a dramatic garnish over grain or legume dishes.
Sorbets are a refreshing way to incorporate mangoes into your summer menus.
Summer's intense heat sends us in search of cooling foods, those with high water content and a touch of sweetness for an energy boost. I created this Southeast Asian salad after thoroughly enjoying the Thai restaurant version. Enjoy it as a first course or as a side dish.
Green Mango Salad is one of the delicious recipes from Zel Allen's cookbook The Nut Gourmet: Nourishing Nuts for Every Occasion published by Book Publishing Company in 2006.
Yield: 5 to 6 servings
GREEN MANGO SALAD