The Tropical Fruit Mango: Varieties, Gastronomical Uses and Nutrition
The world’s most popular and widely cultivated fruit is the orange, apple or even the banana as many would expect, but Mangifera indica or mango. The mango is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The fruit was actually unknown outside of Asia before the 18th century when Portuguese traders brought mango plants to Brazil. From there both the Portuguese and Spanish spread the fruits propagation throughout the tropical Americas, Africa, the Pacific and Hawaii. The Portuguese name for mango, manga is derived from a Tamil Indian word, which is taken from Sanskrit- maha pahala, meaning great fruit. The connection supports the theory that mangos were first cultivated over 4000 years ago. Mangifera indica is a member of the Anacardiaceae botanical family and is related to the cashew and pistachio.
Varieties of Mango: Worldwide, there are over 2000 varieties of mango’s with enormous variation in size, color, shape and flavor. They vary from the small-lemon sized-green mangos, cultivated in India and used to make chutney, to the large colorful varieties from Mexico, Florida and South America. Only two states in the USA have the ideal climate to grow mangos. Florida and Hawaii. The Tommy Atkins, is medium sized with a yellowish-orange and strong red tinge. Atkins mangos are more disease resistant than other species, and so are more attractive to growers, although some say their quality is average at best. This is in part because they can be more fibrous than other specious. The Tommy Atkins mango arrives on supermarket shelves in spring, with organic mangos from Mexico.
Arriving in summer and slightly larger are Keitt mangos. The Keitt mango, also oval shaped, are yellow-orange with a sweet flavor and almost no fibrous texture. They are considered to have better overall quality than the Tommy Atkins.
A small kidney shaped mango called ataulfo first propagated in Hawaii and now successfully harvested, most notably, near Vera Cruz, Mexico. The atailfo mango is divided into four subgenera. Champagne, Mexican, baby and mini. Ataulfo’s have yellow skin. They are smooth and sweet, with lots of flavor and are available in spring to early summer.
Towards the end of summer two mango varieties appear in stores from Hawaii and South America. They are Haden and Kent. Both are large and oval shaped, although Kent is slightly larger than Haden. Kent has a rich buttery, smooth texture and is very sweet. Haden is slightly less sweet, aromatic and more fibrous.
Gastronomical Uses: The sweet, aromatic and complex tropical flavor of mango makes it an ideal fruit to enjoy by itself and also to combine in sweet and savory dishes. Green mangos are used in India to make chutneys and also for yogurt based drinks. Amchoor is a powder made from dried green mangos. It is used like tamarind or lemon, to add a sour, tart flavor to Indian curries, dals and soups.
In south American countries the sourness of unripe green mangos are enjoyed just with a little salt and lime juice to enhance their flavor. In Thailand, Mexico and India there are versions of sweet dried mango paste which is dried by the sun. The Indian version is called Maamidi tindra and the Mexican versions sometimes include chili peppers. In some countries green mangos are cooked like vegetables to accompany fish or meat. The mangos high pectin content makes it ideal for jams and jellies. And when fully ripened, mangos make an excellent accompaniment or sauce for duck, ham, fish or poultry.
Buying and Storing: Sometimes mangos are picked too early which tends to make them more fibrous and have an acidic flavor; avoid those mangos, which tend to have shriveled skin. You cannot always tell a good mango by color alone, so look for fragrant fruits that yield to slight pressure.
Mangos are less perishable than many other tropical fruits. Unripe mangos should be stored at room temperature, as they will not ripen in temperatures below 55°F. They will ripen in about one week, but you can accelerate the process by placing the mangos in a paper bag with an apple. Fully ripened mangos often have black spots. The skin of mango contains oils which can irritate some peoples skin. For this reason it is always best to wash them before handling, and always peel them before consuming.
Nutrition: Mangos are highly nutritious. In fact one mango provides the total recommended daily dose of vitamin C. Yet, this fruit has more vitamin A than C, and is a significant source of vitamin B6 and potassium. It also contain the mineral copper, vitamin E, and has a high content of carbohydrates and sugar, about 16 %.
Science has so far isolated five groups of flavonoids found in mangos, including epicatechin and quercetin. These phenols found in skin and flesh pigments of certain foods are powerful antioxidants which help neutralize damaging free radicals and have anti cancer properties.
Mangos are a good source of pectin. Pectin is a complex carbohydrate found in many plants and most fruits which is used as a thickener and stabilizer in the food industry. It is soluble fiber that when digested has numerous health benefits, including lowering serum cholesterol and LDL ( low density lipoprotein) cholesterol or bad cholesterol. Pectin is a good source of dietary fiber for diabetics and research suggest it can reduce heart disease and gallstones.
Other Uses: In Asia the leaves of the mango tree have been used for centuries as traditional medicinal remedies for many ailments. They have antifungal and antibacterial activity. Also, a decoction made of mango leaves is said to normalize insulin levels in diabetics.
The timber of the mango tree is soft, yet durable and is often used in India for boat building, packing cases, tea chests, furniture and planking for flooring, etc.
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