Scientific & Common Names:
Mangoes (or mangos) are juicy stone fruits belonging to the genus Mangifera indica
South Asia, first grown in India over 5,000 years ago
The mango tree grows in tropical and sub-tropical climates and frost-free climates since extended exposure to temperatures below 30°F can kill or severely damage a mango tree. Mango trees can grow quite large, reaching a height of over 100 feet with a canopy of 35 feet or more, although mangoes being cultivated for harvest are often pruned and kept much smaller to be more manageable for picking. The mango tree has large, leathery leaves, five to 16 inches in length, and flowers are produced in terminal clusters about four to 16 inches long. Each flower is small with white petals and a mild, sweet aroma and less than 1% of the flowers will mature to form a fruit. It takes approximately four months for the mangoes to mature on the tree before they’re ready to be harvested. Certain mangoes on each tree will receive more sunlight than others, with some fruit staying shaded within the tree’s canopy. In certain varieties, the mangoes that receive the most sunlight will develop a red blush at the stem end; however, this red blush is not an indicator of maturity or ripeness.
Mangoes can vary quite a bit in size and color based on the variety, and there are over 300 varieties worldwide! Mangoes are generally sweet, although the taste and texture of the flesh also varies by variety. Some mangoes have a soft, pulpy texture similar to an overripe plum, some are firmer, like a cantaloupe or avocado, and some may even have a fibrous texture. Inside the fruit is a large, flat, oblong pit which contains a single seed within. The skin of unripe, pickled, or cooked mango can be consumed, but has the potential to cause contact dermatitis of the lips or tongue in susceptible people.
It can be difficult to pick out a ripe mango based on it’s color, so the best way to pick out ripe mangoes is to squeeze them gently. A ripe mango will give slightly and a firm mango will ripen at room temperature over a few days. To speed up ripening, place mangoes in a paper bag at room temperature or set them in the sun for a day or two. Once ripened, mangoes can be moved to the refrigerator to slow down ripening for several days.
Mangoes are often eaten on their own, or the ripe fruit is used in used in smoothies, sorbets, or other sweet desserts. The ripe fruit is also used in savory dishes like salads, sauces, chutneys, salsas, or to top meat or fish. Mangoes also have natural tenderizing properties, making them a perfect ingredient for marinades. The popular combination of sweet and salty, or sweet and spicy makes the mango a popular fruit in many cultures to sprinkle with chili powder, lime salt, or vinegar. Even the sour, unripe mangoes are used in things like chutneys, pickles, green mango salad, and side dishes. Due to the high natural sugar content of mangoes, they are also popular for making fermented drinks like mango wine or mead.
Nutrition and Practical Uses:
Mangoes are high in vitamin C and folate, and are a good source of natural fiber. Dried mango skin and its seeds are also used in Ayurvedic medicines. Mango leaves are used to decorate archways and doors in Indian houses and during weddings and celebrations such as Ganesh Chaturthi.
Toxicity and Warnings:
Contact with sap or the oils in mango leaves with skin can cause dermatitis and, in rarer cases, anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals (especially those with a history of dermatitis induced by contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac). However, sensitized individuals are still able to safely eat peeled mangoes or drink mango juice.