Mama, mama, MANGO!

Driving around our island in early June, it’s hard to miss the ripening fruit hanging over the roads, tempting bird and human claws alike. The amazing mango is here in abundance, and whether you have a tree to share from or sneak to the neighbors at midnight, no one should go one day without a mango while they bloom with early summer flavor. Mangoes are known to have originated in India, Burma and the Andaman Islands at the Bay of Bengal. The first seedling diaspora across the Asian and African continent began as early as 300 A.D. and in Hawai‘i came in the 19th century. On every continent, grown or imported, the mango has gained an immense popularity and therefore has developed a basket-full of folklore and myth, medicinal and nutritional application, and unique recipes.

Where the mango permeated literature, mythology, arts and crafts perhaps most deeply was in it’s country of origin: India. Even the name ‘mango’ is derived from the Tamil word ‘mangkay’ or ‘man-gay,’ and was translated into several other languages, keeping the basic sounds of the original. When the Portuguese traders settled in Western India they adopted the name as ‘manga.’ In India the fruit is honored as ‘a fruit of the God Indra’ as told in one story where Lord Indra in fact, becomes a mango tree. The curvilinear shape of the mango was graphically translated into the Indian paisley shape, later to be adopted by European culture. Myths, songs and rites centered on the fruit since ancient times.

References are documented in Hindu writings dating back to 4000 B.C. Buddhist monks cultivated the fruit and in fact, the mango is considered to be a sacred fruit in the religion because it is said that Buddha himself meditated under a mango tree, spent time in a mango orchard, and taught that it was a very potent fruit. Persian traders eventually discovered the wonderfully flavored mango, bringing it to the Middle East and Africa. From there the Portuguese brought it to Brazil and the West Indies. Mango cultivators arrived in Florida in the 1830s and in California in the 1880s.

“The earliest record of the mango in Hawai‘i is the introduction of several small plants from Manila in 1824. Three plants were brought from Chile in 1825. In 1899, grafted trees of a number of Indian varieties, including ‘Pairi,’ were imported. Seedlings became widely distributed over the six major islands,” writes scholar Julia Morton in her paper “Fruits of Warm Climates.”

Every part of the mango is beneficial and has been utilized in folk remedies for centuries. Most are surprised to hear of its relation to the poison ivy plant which contains the phytochemical urushiol. A severe rash and swelling can result from contact with the resinous sap that drips from the stem end when mangos are harvested, therefore it is always important to wash or wear gloves when handling the fruit.

Partly because of this powerful resin, the bark, leaves and skin have been concocted into various types of treatments or preventatives down through the centuries. “A partial list of the many medicinal properties and purported uses attributed to the mango tree are as follows: anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-septic, anti-tussive (cough), anti-asthmatic, expectorant, cardiotonic, contraceptive, aphrodisiac, hypotensive, laxative, stomachic (beneficial to digestion),” according to The Mango Board’s official Web site. The fat extracted from the kernel-pit is white, solid like cocoa butter and tallow, edible, and has been proposed as a substitute for cocoa butter in chocolate.

One of the interesting histories of the mango includes Indian yellow. The pigment that was developed from feeding cows mango leaves, collecting their urine and evaporating it into a unique color called euxanthin or euxanthine was used in oil paint and fabric. The practice was outlawed in 1908 due to danger to the cows (because of the mild toxicity) and the color is now produced synthetically.

With the mango’s well-traveled history, the fruit has a large family that includes many varieties, several that grow in Hawai‘i. Each fruit has different characteristics in shape, size and even taste.

“‘Haden’ has represented 90% of all commercial production in Hawai‘i. ‘Pairi’ is more prized for home use but is a shy bearer, a poor keeper, not as colorful as ‘Haden’, so it never attained commercial status. In a search for earlier and later varieties of commercial potential, over 125 varieties were collected and tested between 1934 and 1969. In 1956, one of the winning entries in a mango contest attracted much attention. After propagation and due observation it was named ‘Gouveia’ in 1969 and described as: ovate-oblong, of medium size, with medium-thick, ochre-yellow skin blushed with blood-red over 2/3 of the surface. The flesh is orange, nearly fiberless, sweet, juicy; the seed is small, slender, monoembryonic. The tree is of medium size, a consistent but not heavy bearer. In quality tests ‘Gouveia’ received top scoring over ‘Haden’, ‘Pairi’, and several other cultivators. Florida mangoes rated as promising for Hawai‘i were ‘Pope’, ‘Kent’, ‘Keitt’ and ‘Brooks’ (later than ‘Haden’) and ‘Earlygold’ and ‘Zill’ (earlier than ‘Haden’),” writes Morton.

The Mango Board, an organization that touts the benefits and folklore of mangoes for both consumers and growers emphasize the nutritional benefits of this brilliant fruit. Mangoes are bursting with protective nutrients. The vitamin content depends upon the variety and maturity of the fruit, “when the mango is green the amount of vitamin C is higher, as it ripens the amount of beta carotene (vitamin A) increases,” reports the board.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that healthy adults consume 5 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables every day (based on a daily consumption of 1,200 to 3,200 total calories). Why not make at least two of those from the mango? Mangoes are an excellent source of vitamins C and A, both important antioxidant nutrients. Vitamin C promotes healthy immune function and collagen formation (eat to stay healthy and young). Vitamin A is important for vision and bone growth (eat to enjoy sunsets and keep surfing). Mangoes are a good source of dietary fiber (eat to stay in the flow). Diets low in fat and high in fiber-containing grain products, fruits, and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of some types of cancer (eat to stay alive). Mangoes contain over 20 different vitamins and minerals (mama, mama, mango, get pickin’).

For more info visit: www.freshmangoes.com; www.mango.org; www.londonfruit.com; or eat one yourself.

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