Meet Alphonso, Edward, Francis, Haden and Tommy Atkins. Kent and Palmer, too. No, they’re not the Sonoma Stompers squad. These guys are just a sampling of over 1,000 varieties of the tropical mango. The most widely consumed fruit in the world, the mango is the market dominator in the produce line-up.
The mango is an ancient fruit, some 4,000 years old. Originating in India, the Buddhist monks transported the mangoes on their extensive travels to other lands. Legend has it Buddha himself meditated under the cool shade of the mango tree. Later grown and cultivated in South America, they made their way to California in the late 1800s. Today, several countries grow the bulk of mangoes including Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Brazil. Domestically, they’re grown in Hawaii, Florida and California where the tropical climate is conducive to growing this warm-weather fruit. And because different countries harvest their crops at different times of the year, they’re available year round. That’s good news for mango lovers.
Despite being the most popular fruit in the world, it’s still considered exotic by most Americans. Not so in Sonoma. Local markets readily stock the exotic fruit year round for Sonoma’s sophisticated palate. They say the best varietal comes from India. They in the know, say Alphonso is a culinary experience all its own- a luxury to bite into right from the tree. Sweet and spicy, pulpy creaminess, with a perfumery fragrance and flesh a beautiful deep shade of orange, the coveted Indian mango has a growing season that lasts mere weeks. Unfortunately for us, the domestic demand is so high the fruit is never exported. If ever the opportunity arises to experience Alphonso, don’t pass it up.
You can’t judge a mango by it’s color but you can choose a ripe one with a gentle squeeze. A ripe mango will “give” slightly and a have a fragrant aroma. A firmer fruit will continue to ripen at room temperature over a few days and refrigerating the fruit will slow down the ripening process. You can store the mango in the fridge for up to five days or freeze diced fruit for up to six months.
Perhaps the mango’s exotic characteristic comes from the culinary challenge to describe its unique flavor and texture. Oval, oblong and uniquely S-shaped, the mango can be sweet and creamy, rich and fruity, or spicy and green yet always juicy and tender.
Then again, maybe the most exotic thing about the mango is how to prepare it. Every mango has an “eye” with a thick seed running through the middle. The seed runs directly behind the eye. To cut properly, place the mango on a cutting board so the fruit is “looking” up at you. Cut just off-center as closely as possible to the seed creating two halves. Place the halves with skin-side down and score the flesh in a crisscross pattern taking care not to cut through the skin. Invert the half and push upward to create a hedgehog of neat cubes. Carefully slice the cubes away from the skin.
The health benefits of the mango cannot be underestimated. Mangoes provide 100% of your daily vitamin C requirements and over twenty other nutrients as well. Loaded with antioxidants, research has proven that the fruit helps to prevent colon, breast, and prostate cancers. Its antioxidant punch tempers the chronic inflammation that plays a role in heart disease and diabetes. High levels of pectin help lower serum cholesterol levels and its big dose of vitamin A promotes excellent eyesight. Twenty-five different carotenoids keep your immune system healthy and strong. Mangoes can improve bone strength and help manage your weight. Heck, even the monkey is a fan. A favorite part of the primate’s diet, research suggests the seed of the mango gives the monkey its power and energy to jump from tree to tree.
It should be noted that those who are susceptible could experience contact dermatitis from the skin of the mango. Similar to the allergen in poison ivy and poison oak, the mango skin may cause an allergic reaction. If you’re sensitive to poison oak, proceed with caution when handling the mango.
Fun fact: That unique S-Shape? The paisley pattern, a design originating in India, is based on the shape of a mango.
A fabulous combination of savory and sweet perfectly paired with grilled fish.
Seared Sesame Ahi Tuna with Mango-Avocado Salsa
3 large ripe mangoes, peeled and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
½ bunch cilantro, minced
1 avocado, peeled and diced freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime salt, to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 Ahi Tuna steaks
5 tablespoons mixed black and white sesame seeds salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Set aside.
2. Preheat the grill to high. Mix together the olive oil and sesame seeds and brush liberally over the tuna steaks. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Grill the fish, searing on all sides, approximately 45 seconds, creating grill marks but leaving the interior of the fish rare.
4. Slice the tuna and garnish servings with the salsa.