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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Florida mangos fall into 4 groups:
- Indian varieties
- Philippine and Indo-Chinese types
- West Indian/South American mango
- 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.
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.
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.
Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking