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Mangoes

People in India call mangoes the fruit of the gods, and I think they're right. Few foods are as sweet and fragrant, as full of juice, and as wonderfully tropical-tasting as a good ripe mango. Whenever I visit the Caribbean, one of the first things I do is go out and look for mangoes. A mango can be a mess to eat, but who cares? I'll show you how to do it with the least mess, but to tell the truth, I think the best way to eat it is in your swimsuit. In fact, this is my private recipe for the blues: Put on your swimsuit, grab a towel, go outside and sit in the sun and eat a mango. If you're discreet, you can probably eat two before your mate starts wondering where you are. Better yet, share them with your mate. Mangoes are really very sexy.

Not only does a mango taste like paradise; it's one of the richest sources of beta carotene around.

Mangoes are as common as apples to better than half the world. Asia produces three-quarters of the world's mangoes, with India producing and consuming the most of all. Mangoes grow on huge trees, and the fruit hangs down like lollipops on very long stems. Mangoes in the U.S. markets are generally from Florida or imported from Mexico, Haiti, and other parts of the Caribbean. They come in all shapes and colors - from green-gold to rich gold, orange, or nearly red. They come in all sizes too, from four ounces to five pounds. Look for medium- sized mangoes, a pound to a pound and a half.

Varieties

The following are the mangoes you'll see most often in the market. I've given a few hints about how to distinguish one variety from another, which gets easier with practice. You can always ask your produce manager where the fruit comes from when you're in doubt.

Mexican Mangoes I like the mangoes imported from Mexico alot. Basically kidney-shaped, they're big and greenish yellow, with a red-orange blush in May. Those on the market in March and April tend to be greenish yellow and not quite as large or as plump.

Florida Mangoes Also excellent and of very high quality, the crop from Florida starts in May and continues through September. The most popular variety is the Tommy Atkins, probably because it's so colorful, with orange to orange-red skin. Oval in shape, it averages about a pound in size and has a bright yellow, fine-textured flesh. Tommy Atkins are sweet and juicy, but a little more fibrous than other varieties.

The Hayden usually runs less than a pound, is rounder than most varieties, and has a green to yellow skin with a red blush. The flesh is firm and bright orange and has a good, rich flavor.

The Keith is round and very fat and is the largest of the Florida mangoes, running from two to three pounds. Its green skin may or may not have a touch of red. Because it has less color and less aroma than the Hayden, Kent, or Tommy Atkins, people often pass it by because they think it's not ripe when it actually is. The pit is smaller than that of most mangoes, and the flesh is yellow-gold. Although it's not quite as fragrant or sweet as other varieties, the Keith has a full flavor, tart and lemony, and a smooth, fiber-free flesh.

The Kent is fairly large, fat, and not as oval or as flat as the others. It has a green skin with a reddish cheek and averages a pound to a pound and a half in size. Its yellow-gold flesh is very juicy and fiber-free.

The Palmer is a long, oval-shaped fruit that usually runs about a pound in size. It has a rosy, speckled skin with an orange-yellow - almost apricot-colored - flesh. It's not as fragrant as some, but it's very sweet and is fibrous only around the pit. The Palmer has a little less of the tropical taste of most mangoes, with a flavor more like that of a nectarine or peach.

Haitian Mangoes Although they're always underrated, Haitian mangoes are my favorite. At our store we sell fifty crates of Tommy Atkins for every one we sell from Haiti. A Haitian mango is very flat and elongated, with a skin that starts out lime green and ripens to yellow. It doesn't look pretty, and the flesh is a little more fibrous, but I think it has the best flavor - an intense, tropical taste. It's a great winter treat in January, when the season begins, and it ripens very well at home.

Season

You can usually find good mangoes on the market from January through September. The poorest time is toward the end of the year - November and December. Mangoes are good early in the season, but like oranges, they're at the peak of flavor toward the end of the season.

  • Mexican mangoes: Peak season begins in late March and lasts through September
  • Florida mangoes: May through September
  • Haitian mangoes: January through September
  • Brazilian mangoes:September through January

Selecting

Handle a mango very gently, as it bruises easily. Pick it up and very gently press your thumb against the flesh - it should have a little give and a really sweet smell. A very ripe mango will often have some black speckling outside; don't worry about that or about a little bruising, but avoid mangoes that are black all over - they're past the pint of no return. I think mangoes that are a pound to a pound and a half have the sweetest taste.

Always use your nose when you're choosing mangoes. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a mango that smells wonderful tastes wonderful. If the stem end smells sour or acidic, reject it. If a mango is firm and green, it won't have any smell, but if it looks good, bring it home and ripen it yourself.

Storing

Leave a firm, unripe mango out on the counter a few days, until it colors, develops a sweet aroma, and "gives" when you press it very gently. Never refrigerate a mango. If you must have it chilled, put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes, but I think mangoes taste best at room temperature. In any event, storing a mango below 50ºF for any length of time will take the flavor out.

Preparing

Mangoes are great simply peeled and eaten as is or with a squeeze of lime juice. (Don't eat the peel - it's bitter.) Unlike some fruits, they're slow to discolor when they're sliced. They make a beautiful tropical salad sliced with pineapple chunks, kiwi, papaya, banana - just about any tropical fruit. I like to add a little squeeze of lime and some shredded coconut too. For a refreshing and very nutritious tropical drink, puree some sliced mango with banana, pineapple, and a squeeze of lime.

How to Eat a Mango

Mangoes are not freestone. They have a large stone right in the center of the fruit that is difficult to remove. Here's the best way to deal with it. Make two lengthwise cuts on either side of where you figure the pit is; if it's a flattish mango, turn it up so a narrow side is facing you. The pit is large but fairly flat, so make the cuts no more than half an inch on either side of an imaginary center line. You'll have three slices - the center one with the pit in it.

Now take the two outside slices and score the flesh with the tip of a knife, as if you were drawing a teahouses game. Get as close to the skin as you can without breaking it. Hold the scored slice in two hands and gently push up from the skin side, which will pop inside out. The segments of mango will separate and can easily be scooped off the skin with a spoon or table knife. Add a sprinkle of lime juice if you like.

As for the slice with the pit, you can discard it if you have the willpower. I personally find the flesh around the pit to be the tastiest part. All I can say is that the best way to eat it is to remove the strip of skin around it, pick it up with your fingers - and stand over the sink. Enjoy, enjoy!

Recipes

Mango Fruit Salad

Other recipes from Produce Pete.

   

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