Mango: Know Your Fruits and Veggies™

By Dawn M. Swidorski

Mango is native to the Indian subcontinent and belongs to the genus Mangifera. Botanically, this fruit belongs to the family of Anacardiaceae, which also includes numerous species of tropical fruiting trees, such as cashew and pistachio. The common mango, or Indian mango – is the only mango tree commonly cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions, and its fruit is distributed world-wide.

Mango’s have been cultivated in the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years and reached East Asia between the 4th and 5th centuries BC. By the 10th century AD, cultivation had begun in East Africa. Mango are also grown in Andalusia, Spain, which is one of the few places in mainland Europe that allows growth of tropical plants and fruit trees. Now cultivated in most frost-free tropical and warmer subtropical climates; nearly half of the world’s mangoes are cultivated in India.

Mango trees grow to be 65 –130 ft and are long-lived, with some specimens still bearing fruit after 300 years. The leaves are orange-pink when young and change to a dark glossy red, then dark green as they mature. The flowers are small and white with five petals and have a mild sweet fragrance, similar to “lily of the valley”. The fruit takes three to six months to ripen.

The fruits grow at the end of a long, string-like stem with sometimes two or more fruits to a stem. The fruits are 2 – 9 inches long and may be kidney or oval shaped. They range in size from 8- 24 ounces. The leathery skin is waxy and smooth.

Food - mangoThe ripe fruit is variable in size and color from yellow, orange, red or green, and carry a single flat, oblong pit that can be fibrous (or hairy) on the surface. Like other drupaceous fruits, mangoes come in both freestone and clingstone varieties. Ripe, unpeeled fruit gives off a distinctive resinous, sweet smell. Inside the pit is a thin lining covering a single seed, which contains the plant embryo.

Sometimes called “the king of the fruits”, mango’s are one of the most popular, nutritionally rich with a unique flavor and fragrance. The flesh of a mango is peach-like and juicy. The flavor is pleasant and rich, being high in sugars and acid. Mango is generally sweet, although the taste and texture of the flesh varies across cultivars, some having a soft, pulpy texture similar to an overripe plum, while the flesh of others is firmer, like a cantaloupe or avocado.

The mango skin may be consumed if the fruit is unripe or pickled, but has potential to cause an allergic reaction to people with latex allergies. In ripe fruits the skin may be thicker and bitter tasting, so is typically not eaten.

Mango contains essential vitamins A, C and E Vitamin B6, vitamin K, other B vitamins and phytonutrients, such as beta-caroten, lutein and alpha-carotene.

How to select a mango and tell if it’s ripe

Look for skins that are taut and smooth without any bruises or cuts. The fruit should feel heavy for its size, a sign of density and juiciness.

Give it a gentle squeeze. If it’s ready, it will yield a bit. Remember that mango’s will continue to ripen off the tree, so if you’re not planning on eating them for a few days, it might be better to buy ones that are a bit firmer.

Unripe mangos can be kept at room temperature for few days, and to ripen, keep them in paper covers. Ripe mangos should be stored in the refrigerator. Bring back to normal temperature when the fruit is to be eaten to get the natural taste and flavor.

How to peel and cut a mango

Look over your mango: It will have two flatter or wider sides. The large pit will mirror this shape and will be roughly the middle third of the fruit, depending on variety.

With a sharp paring knife, slice off the two wide, flatter sides, each about one-third of the width of the mango. food - mango cut

Hold one of the mango lobes, skin side down, in the palm of your hand. With the tip of your knife, gently score it with lines a half inch or more apart, all the way to the skin but being careful not to poke through it. Now, rotate the mango 90 degrees and score it again, making a square or diamond pattern.

Hold the scored mango, flesh side up, with both hands and flip it inside out, so the fruit pops out like a porcupine. Either slice off the mango diamonds or serve the fruit just like that.

Serving Tips

  • Mangoes are widely used in cuisine. Sour, unripe mangoes are used in chutneys, pickles, or side dishes, or may be eaten raw with salt, chili, or soy sauce.
  • Ripe mangoes are typically eaten fresh; however, they can have many other culinary uses including juice and a popular drink made throughout South Asia by mixing ripe mangoes or mango pulp with yogurt and sugar.
  • Ripe mangoes are also used to make curries.
  • Ripe mangoes are often cut into thin layers, dried, folded, and then cut. The fruit is also added to cereal products like muesli and oat granola.
  • Mangoes may be used to make juices, mango nectar, and as a flavoring and major ingredient in ice cream, sorbet and fruit bars.
  • Mango fruit can be enjoyed alone without any additions.
  • Fresh mango cubes are a great addition to fruit salads.

Mango leaves are used to decorate archways and doors in Indian houses during weddings and celebrations. Mango motifs and paisleys are widely used in different Indian embroidery styles, and are found in Kashmiri shawls, silk saris, etc.