Mangos, a fruit that brings on obsessive tendencies

Quick – what is the most consumed fruit in the world?  If mangoes was your answer, you are right!  I would have suspected bananas, but with a more knowledgable eye and a walk through the food markets it made sense.  Mangoes account for about half of all tropical fruits produced around the world.   In about every ethnic market, the Eastern European ones notwithstanding, I saw mangoes and mango products galore.  Mango trees are the most domesticated tree on earth and spread like something like wildfire thanks to global travelers such as the Persians, and those globe trotting Portuguese.

mangoes at the market

Many are surprised to find that the luscious mango, Mangifera indica L., one of the most celebrated of tropical fruits, is a member of the family Anacardiaceae–notorious for some highly poisonous plants.  It is also a distant relative of the pistachio and cashew trees.

What’s in a Name?

The English word “mango” originated from the Tamil word māṅgai or mankay or Malayalam māṅṅa, via Portuguese (also manga).  The word’s first recorded mention in a European language was in 1510 Italy, as manga. How the “-o” got added to in English is unclear.

When mangoes were first imported to the American colonies in the 17th century, they were pickled because of the lack of refrigeration. Other pickled fruits came to be called “mangoes”, especially bell peppers, and by the 18th century, the word “mango” became a verb meaning “to pickle”, and the term mango pepper was commonly used to refer to those bell peppers.

alfanso mangoes

Spreading the Love

Native to southern Asia, the mango has long been cultivated and revered. Buddhist monks brought mangoes to Malaysia and eastern Asia in the 4th and 5th Centuries B.C, and the Persians continued the tradition by carrying it to East Africa about the 10th Century A.D.  The Portuguese past it on to West Africa early in the 16th Century and Brazil. From Brazil, the mango was carried to the West Indies, reaching Jamaica about 1782 and, early in the 19th Century, arrived in Mexico via the Philippines and the West Indies.

Gaining a foothold in the US, specifically Florida proved no small feat as frost and disease took a toll until the right breed showed up.  Of six grafted trees that arrived from Bombay in 1889, only one survived, and Captain Haden planted seeds from that sturdy tree in Miami. After his death and his widow gave the name ‘Haden’ to the tree that bore the best fruit. This variety was regarded as the standard of excellence and was popular for shipping because of its tough skin.

more options

Note:  mangoes are climacteric fruits that accumulate starch, which means they can be picked green and will sweeten and soften as they ripen

India produces 65% of the world’s mango crop, but accounts for less than 1% of global trade as most of their mangos are consumed in country. Following India are Thailand, Pakistan and Bangladesh, followed by Brazil. Mexico ranks 5th, the Philippines are 6th, Tanzania is 7th, the Dominican Republic, 8th and Colombia, 9th.

Chief importers are England and France, absorbing 82% of all mango shipments.

Indian Varieties

Over 500 named varieties (some say 1,000) have evolved and have been described in India. Perhaps some are duplicates by different names, but at least 350 are propagated in commercial nurseries.

Alphonso, Benishaan or Benisha and Kesar mango varieties are most popular in India’s southern states, while Chausa, Dasheri and Langra varieties top the charts in the northern states.

and elsewhere

Florida mangos fall into 4 groups:

  1. Indian varieties
  2. Philippine and Indo-Chinese types
  3. West Indian/South American mango
  4. Florida-originated selections or cultivars

Generally, mangos from the Philippines (‘Carabao’) and Thailand (‘Saigon’, ‘Cambodiana’) behave better in Florida’s humidity than the Indian varieties.

There’s no accounting for taste

Europeans prefer a deep-yellow mango that develops a reddish-pink tinge. In Florida, the mango color is an important factor and everyone admires a handsome mango overlaid with red. Red skin is considered a necessity in mangos shipped to northern markets, even though the quality may be inferior to those non-showy cultivars, proving you cannot tell a book by its cover.  While in India, all but four of the leading cultivars are yellow-skinned. The exceptions are: two yellow with a red blush on shoulders, one red-yellow with a blush of red, and one green. In Thailand, there is a popular mango called ‘Tong dum’ (‘Black Gold’) marketed when the skin is very dark-green.


The mango is generally sweet, although the taste and texture varies bys cultivars, some having a soft, pulpy texture similar to an overripe plum, while others have firmer flesh, like an avocado, and can be downright fibrous. For consumption of unripe, pickled or cooked fruit, the mango skin may be consumed, but may cause contact dermatitis in susceptible people. In ripe fruits which are commonly eaten fresh, the skin can be thicker and bitter, so it is often removed.  In no particular order, some mango eating ideas:

A dish called mamidikaya pappu in Telugu and mangai paruppu in Tamil, where mangoes are cooked with red gram dhal and green chillies, is served with cooked rice and clarified, but raw mangoes are typically eaten fresh. Mango lassi, a popular drink made throughout South Asia, is created by mixing ripe mangoes or mango pulp with buttermilk and sugar. Ripe mangoes are also used in curries. Aamras is a popular pulp/thick juice made of mangoes with sugar or milk, and is consumed with bread, rice or pooris. The pulp from ripe mangoes is also used to make jam called mangada.

Mangoes are used in preserves such as moramba, amchur (dried and powdered unripe mango) and pickles, including a spicy mustard-oil pickle and alcohol.

Unripe mango may be eaten with bagoong (especially in the Philippines), fish sauce or a dash of salt. Dried strips of sweet, ripe mango (sometimes combined with seedless tamarind to form mangorind) are also popular.

Mango is used to make juices, smoothies, ice cream, fruit bars, raspados, aguas frescas, pies and sweet chili sauce, or mixed with chamoy, a sweet and spicy chili paste. It is popular on a stick dipped in hot chili powder and salt or as a main ingredient in fresh fruit combinations. In Central America, mango is either eaten green mixed with salt, vinegar, black pepper and hot sauce, or ripe. Toasted and ground pumpkin seed (called pepita) with lime and salt are the norm when eating green mangoes.

Sweet glutinous rice is flavored with coconut, then served with sliced mango as a dessert. Green mangoes can be used in mango salad with fish sauce and dried shrimp. Mango with condensed milk may be used as a topping for shaved ice.

Most people enjoy eating the residual flesh from the seed by piercing the stem-end of the seed with the long central tine of a mango fork, common in Mexico, and holding the seed upright like a lollypop. Small mangos can be peeled and mounted on the fork and eaten in the same manner.

mango pudding - the perfect dim sum finisher

Diced ripe mangoes, bathed in sweetened or unsweetened lime juice, to prevent discoloration, can be quick-frozen, as can sweetened ripe or green mango puree. Half-ripe or green mangos are peeled and sliced as filling for pie, used for jelly, or made into sauce which, with added milk and egg whites, can be converted into mango sherbet. Green mangos are peeled, sliced, parboiled, then combined with sugar, salt, various spices and cooked, sometimes with raisins or other fruits, to make chutney; or they may be salted, sun-dried and kept for use in chutney and pickles. Thin slices, seasoned with turmeric, are dried, and sometimes powdered, and used to impart an acid flavor to dishes.  Mango sushi, anyone?  Great recipes from a favorite Thai blogger, SheSimmer’s Leela.  Sawsawan from Jun-Blog

The peel constitutes 20% to 25% of the total weight of the fruit, and Indian researchers have shown that the peel can be a source of pectin.

Immature mango leaves are cooked and eaten in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Toxic Love

Now this was news to me, the sap which exudes from the stalk close to the base of the fruit is somewhat milky at first, also yellowish-resinous. It becomes pale-yellow and translucent when dried. It, like the sap of the trunk and branches and the skin of the unripe fruit, is a potent skin irritant, and capable of blistering the skin of the normal individual. As with poison ivy, there is often a delayed reaction.  Sensitive folks may not handle, peel, or eat mangoes or any food containing mango flesh or juice.

Mango peel and sap contain urushiol, the same compound in poison ivy and poison sumac that causes contact dermatitis in susceptible people. When mango trees are in bloom, it is not uncommon for people to suffer itching eyes, facial swelling and respiratory difficulty, even with no airborne pollen.

A final warning is that mango wood should never be used in fireplaces or for cooking fuel, as its smoke is highly irritant.

Versatility has no limits

Seed fat: With high stearic acid content, the fat is used to make soap.

Wood: The wood is kiln-dried or seasoned in saltwater. It is gray or greenish-brown, coarse-textured, medium-strong, hard, durable in water but not in the ground; easy to work and finishes well. In India, after preservative treatment, it is used for rafters and joists, window frames, agricultural implements, boats, plywood, shoe heels and boxes.

Bark: The bark possesses sufficient tannin and is used to tan hides. It yields a yellow dye or, with turmeric and lime, a bright rose-pink.

Gum: The red-brown gum from the trunk is used for mending crockery in tropical Africa. In India, it is a substitute for gum arabic.



Horticulture Department of Purdue

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking

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31 comments for “Mangos, a fruit that brings on obsessive tendencies

  1. May 28, 2012 at 1:59 AM

    Very interesting facts. I love mangoes, but I don’t like them when they are too ripe. I need a bit a crunch and a not too sweet taste…



  2. May 28, 2012 at 3:19 AM

    How sweetest mangoes! i love mangoes so when i saw it in your article i fill i could make a nice cold juice of it..
    Nice!! http://

  3. May 28, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    There’s a type of Indian mango that has been allowed into the U.S. only in the past few years. It’s amazingly good. Pricey. But boy, is it worth it. The flesh is sooooo creamy. It’s almost like creme brulee in fruit form. 😉
    Carolyn Jung recently posted..New Tazo Ice Tea Bags & A Food Gal Giveaway

  4. May 28, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    Mangoes are one of my fruits and are a popular fruit in Colombia…..We eat green mangoes with salt and lime or in salads.Ripe mangoes are used in desserts, juices etc.
    Erica recently posted..Creamy Asparagus and Lemon Oven Rice

  5. OysterCulture
    May 28, 2012 at 8:22 PM

    Rosa – love mangoes in all their forms, the overly ripe ones are perfect in lassis or smoothies for us.

    Rozy – thanks for stopping by

    Carolyn – I believe thats the Alphonso, and boy are they good! I think the price has gone down since they were first introduced.

    Erica – I need to try more with the savory spices, that sounds so refreshing.

  6. May 29, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    I always think of mangoes in South America – never in India. Shows what I know – NOTHING! I am fascinated that they are available in MN year-round – so we must export plenty. You don’t find peaches year-round. Facinating post about a most versatile fruit (and grateful with its irritants that they don’t grow around here.)
    Claudia recently posted..One Day You Will be Old Enough to Read Fairy Tales Again

  7. May 30, 2012 at 6:46 AM

    I would have thought Bananas too, Lou Ann. Shows you how much I know about mangos before reading this wonderful post. I’m not much of a Mango girl but perhaps I should give them another try especially since I now know their heritage.

    Thank you so much for sharing this valuable information!!! I enjoyed reading it with my morning coffee:)
    Louise recently posted..Foiling My Way Through the Empty Nest Syndrome

  8. May 31, 2012 at 7:31 AM

    To this day my dad still calls green bell peppers mangos. He gets so confused when I talk about the fruit which is something he’s completely unfamiliar with. I was able to learn so much about them when we were in Brazil. We had a market that would import varieties from the north so I got to see several different kinds. I had a TA in grad school from India and she told us a lot about all the varieties there. Such an amazing fruit! I had no idea about the toxins, but now that I hear they are related to the cashew it makes sense. So much great info here!
    Lori recently posted..Pure Beef: Tamarind Beef Satay

  9. June 1, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    Hi Lou Ann! It’s me again! Guess what, I just found out that June is National Mango Month!!! So sharing this post, lol…
    Louise recently posted..It’s National Donut Day and It’s Filled with Celebrations!

  10. June 3, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    This is such an interesting post about mangoes! I learned a lot, again! 🙂 My husband loves mango’s but I don’t!
    Sophie recently posted..Lemon thyme & garlic perfumed roasted vegetables & a garden update!

  11. June 3, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    I love your informative posts! I had no idea that mangos are the most consumed fruit in the world. But it makes sense. My husband is actually allergic to mangoes. He can eat a few small pieces, but his tongue becomes tingly and swollen.
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted..Summer Food and Exercise

  12. June 4, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    Oh I am a mango lover – I go crazy when its in season….like now, though we’re just coming to the end. I learn so so much from your posts!
    Kitchen Butterfly recently posted..Life

  13. June 5, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    Loved this post. Never thought there was so much history around Mango. Think the reason why English native speakers changed it from Manga to Mango is because it’s difficult for us to get our tongues around words ending in ‘a’. Read recently in a paper that eating the skin helps you lose weight. Guess they forgot to mention the ‘helps you get food poisining too’ bit lol
    ruth recently posted..Earthquake in Italy and Thinking of all of you

  14. June 5, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    Thank goodness that I am free of mango allergies as I love them. They’re wonderful to eat when we visit Brazil as several varieties can be found at very low prices, all of which are tasty. This is another really engaging post that’s very informative.
    Stevie recently lentil (dal) rissoles, patties or croquettes

  15. June 9, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    Wow, I had no idea mangoes were the most popular fruit. I do see more and more of them locally. And, we even get them in our CSA now since part of our bounty comes from south Texas. I think I’ve only ever tried two varieties. I’d like to taste more!
    lisaiscooking recently posted..Flax-Coconut Pancakes

  16. June 12, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    I didn’t know that there are so many variety of mangoes…I sure love them as I grew up in Brazil, mango was available almost all year round. And yes, I love the mango pudding at the dim sum 🙂
    Thanks for this awesome post and hope you are having a wonderful week!
    Juliana recently posted..Chicken in Wine Sauce with Cheesy Creamy Polenta

  17. June 24, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    Calling all mango lovers… Season is open and the mango is great this year… check out:

    Libby and Sal

  18. June 24, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    Thx for connecting with me on foodbuzz. I just subscribed to your blog feed and can’t wait to see what your next post will be!
    CJ at Food Stories recently posted..Ginger Macadamia Brownies

  19. June 30, 2012 at 1:21 PM

    that is so interesting! I would have guessed bananas too or apples; so much for the song giving me the clue. Love mangoes, especially the Egyptian ones/

  20. Mai
    July 13, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    In Vietnam green mangos are sliced and sold to kids in a bag with salt and chili flakes. My mom never let me eat street food, so I was drooling watching the other kids go at it. But I had plenty of ripe, juicy, sweet mangoes at home. The best kind had somewhat of a light sandy texture when it ripes.
    The mangos in the States are just not the same.

  21. OysterCulture
    July 18, 2012 at 8:41 PM

    Claudia – funny, I never would have thought of SA, goes to show you context ha?

    Louise – Thank you as always for the incredibly kind words. Mangos are always at the top of my list for eating, I don’t think I could ever tire of them. Ha, I wish I could say I deliberately wrote this post knowing it was mango month, but no such luck

    Lori – too funny. I’d not heard anyone say that.

    Julianna – You too!

    CJ – Nice to meet you as well.

    Taste of Beirut – I need to try some Egyptian ones by the sounds of it.

    Mai – I hear you, when I was in Asian I was entralled with the fruit. I have to ask, have you tried the mangos as street food since then? That sounds delicious!

    Ruth – Ha! Maybe thats the way to weightloss =)

    KB – We’re near the end of our season too, and I am bummed.

    Sophie – You and your husband counter balance each other perfectly!

    Andrea – I feel sorry for your husband, but after reading the post I now understand why.

    Stevie – Glad you liked!

    Lisa – I’d love to see what you do with them. Need to catch up on my reading.

  22. Mai
    July 18, 2012 at 11:02 PM

    No, sadly I still haven’t tried the green mango with chili salt… I don’t think I’ve seen them in the States, and I haven’t been in Vietnam for many years. Let me know how you like it when you try it. 🙂

  23. OysterCulture
    July 21, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    Hi Mai, I have seen the mangos with chili salt in the states, but now cannot remember where. If I do again, and I remember I will let you know, so we can both check that off our lists of having tried.

  24. July 30, 2012 at 7:38 PM

    I adore mangos and have forgotten all the ways that I love to enjoy this fruit until I read this post. My favorite are the ones from India, they are the sweetest. The second favorite way is as you mentioned in the post the green salad – my mouth is watering!
    Christine @ Fresh Local and Best recently posted..Mexican-Style Grilled Corn

  25. August 3, 2012 at 2:21 AM

    I wish Mangoes were available in all seasons, throughout the year. We Indians can eat mango in any form. Be it as a fruit, as salad & salsa, as pickle, as pudding, as ice-creme, in milk shakes, in lassi (yogurt based Indian drink), anything. But it is best enjoyed in its simple form….As a fruit.

  26. August 13, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    Wow i never would have guessed that mangos would have won out over banas as the most consumed fruit in the world.

  27. September 24, 2012 at 2:47 AM

    mmmm…that mango pudding is simple droolworthy!

  28. October 24, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    My favourite is the Honey Mango which I think you call the alfanso.

  29. October 31, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    I could eat ripe, juicy, sweet mangoes all day and all night. I love them!!!!

  30. November 22, 2012 at 10:39 PM

    @Lou Ann and @Mai: You can find green mangoes in most Asian specialty markets. Check at Ranch 99 Market.

  31. December 12, 2012 at 12:31 AM

    This post is packed with information. Mango is a popular garden and agricultural tree in Israel. They tend to be shorter when grown in a semi-arid climate, making harvesting easier.
    Sarah recently posted..Memories of a merry Hanukah

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