"Aam" is the Hindi and Urdu word for mango and this is definitely mango season! This juicy stone fruit is one of the most economically and culturally important tropical fruits across Asia. Mangos were originally found in the the foothills of the Himalayas, Burma, and Bangladesh. The mango was domesticated thousands of years ago and are now grown in most tropical and subtropical countries worldwide. Mangos are the national fruit of India, Pakistan, and the Philippines as well as the national tree of Bangladesh.
|A young mango tree in full bloom.|
Mangos are a member of the cashew family, Anacardiaceae, and grow into huge evergreen trees which can grow to ninety feet tall and thirty five feet across. They are also particularly long lived as some specimens still produce fruit after 300 years.
The flowers are borne in multi branched panicles and are both male and bisexual. The flowers are small, creamy white or light yellow and have a mild fragrance reminiscent of lily of the valley.
Depending on growing conditions and variety the irregularly rounded or somewhat oval shaped fruits can be up to eleven inches in length and weigh up to five pounds each. Mangos are attached by a pendulous stem on the broadest end of the fruit. A mature mango tree can produce 2,000 to 2,500 fruits per year and some cultivars produce a double crop yearly. There are well over a thousand named cultivars of mangos in the world today. The flavors and textures vary from mild and peach-like with buttery flesh to harsh and fibrous with a resinous or turpentine-like taste.
The most popular mango variety for eating fresh in South Asia is the "Alphonso" cultivar you see in the above photo. The Alphonso mango's skin is a distinctive rich yellow with a peachy blush and it's flesh is very pulpy and sweet. The most common commercial cultivar you'll see in western countries is called "Tommy Atkins."
My favorite variety are these little unnamed mangoes they bring up from the southern region of Nepal called the "Terai" and the northern Indian state of Bihar. We have friends who live in Terai and they send us crates of these from their trees when they ripen in late Summer. They are small, fitting in the palm of your hand and range in color from blue green to brilliant red. Despite their small size they have that fruity-floral nectarine flavor I love and the perfect balance of tart to sweet. Their flesh is firm but buttery.
Mangos they are enjoyed many different ways in South Asia. Green mangos are made into spicy, sour, and hot pickles with are a favorite accompaniment to meals. I've already talked about "amchur" which is a souring agent made from dried green mangoes. Good old American Tang even comes in a delicious mango flavor in South Asia too. Mangos are used to make chutneys, lassis, kulfi, a form of preserves called "murabba," curries, and all sorts of goodies. Mango jams are quite lovely and dried or frozen mangos are fine but I'd recommend avoiding canned mangos. Like lychees, mangos do not can well and lose all their fruity floral flavors in the process.