Whether you realize it or not, we all have access to one of the best seasons on the planet: mango season. That’s right, as I sit here eating a honey-sweet, velvety Philippine mango, there are shipping containers from Peru and Mexico unloading boxes and boxes of tropical goodness into your ports right now. So do yourselves a favor, North American snow folks, go eat a mango.
The Philippines is in the height of mango season. Many people tell me that mangoes are actually available year-round here, but that doesn’t stop me from eating one almost every day like they're about to disappear. These gloriously yellow mangoes are perfectly-sweet and perfectly-textured. Do you think I'm exaggerating? These are mangoes, the most supreme of all fruits. Supreme supreme, not, one year supreme, eh, the next year mealy and bland like peaches.
The Kalabaw (Carabao) mango dominates the market here in the Philippines and is long and flatter than many other mangoes. Best of all, it has relatively less fiber around the seed. Though the Philippines doesn’t export a lot of fresh Carabao mangoes to the U.S. yet (up until October 2014, the U.S. had import restrictions on Philippine mangoes because of concerns about invasive insects), you may begin to see more of them in your produce markets soon.
Luckily, this common Filipino variety, which originated in India, is grown elsewhere in the world and is called the Ataulfo mango. It is sometimes also marketed as a Honey, Champagne, or Manila mango. Tons and tons of Ataulfos have been shipped from Mexico in the last few weeks, so you may be able to find one in your grocery store or fruit stand the next time you shop.
The Philippines has schooled me on how a superior mango should taste and I’ve read a lot about mangoes online. I know you’ve been busy dodging black ice and shoveling snow, so here are some tips to help you pick a good mango the next time you’re at the grocery store.
1. Get to know the best mango varieties. Ataulfo, Kent and Keitt are solid. The Haitian mango—also a buttery yellow mango, but bigger than Ataulfo—has a short stellar season to watch for from late-spring to early-summer. The Alphonso from India is considered by many to be one of the best in the world.
Check out The Mango Maven. She offers some helpful insight into her favorites and each mango variety’s features.
2. Avoid Tommy Adkins mangoes.
They don’t taste as sweet and well, mangoey, as others. And worse, they’re really fibrous. Unfortunately, they were one of the first varieties of mango to enter the U.S. market because they shipped well and looked good in the grocery stores. (They play into the "red fruit equals delicious" trap many unknowing humans have fallen victim to over the ages.) They’re also grown by our nearest neighbors, Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, so they’re everywhere in the U.S. Unless you’re making a smoothie, it’s best to skip the Tommy Adkins. And Hadens are hit-or-miss, according to the Mango Maven.
3. Get to know how each mango variety looks and feels when ripe. Most often a ripe mango skin will show small wrinkles, starting around the stem. Don’t judge ripeness just by color. With some varieties, Kent mangoes are an example, the skin will still be partly green even when ripe.
4. Finally, try to find out where your mango was grown. If the country-of-origin is not labeled, ask your grocer and look for crops that are in season. If you want to be hard-core about tracking mango imports, check out the National Mango Board’s Crop Report. (There are also some excellent lessons for math teachers in this document!) The Crop Report tells you the estimated and actual mango imports from countries in the Caribbean and Americas. (Sadly, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and other Asian importers aren’t represented in this trade group--though my source tells me that almost all mangoes from India and Pakistan that make it to the U.S. are yummy.)
The most recent February 27th Crop Report shows that Ataulfo mangoes from Mexico should be in grocery stores right now. (The report has all sorts of details: eight shipping containers of mangoes arrived to New York from Peru on Feb 18th. You can extrapolate that if 95% of Peruvian imported mangoes are Kents, chances are New Yorkers are probably getting a bunch of Kents!) You’ll also see that 94% of Guatemala’s mangoes are Tommy Adkins mangoes. Sorry, Guatemala.
So, snow-weary friends and family, I hope that this mango buying and eating information has been helpful. Remember that even in the worst of times, somewhere in the world it is mango season. If you can’t escape to the tropics, go eat a mango.
How to Cut a Mango: Hedgehog Style
1. Hold the mango lengthwise on its edge and cut the sides off. The stone should be left in the middle. (Meet neighbor E.J. Born in El Paso, this Texan-American-Filipino child is going to school in his mother's homeland.)
2. Cut a grid in the flesh of the fruit--try not to cut through the skin.
3. Flip the skin concave to reveal easy-to-munch, -spoon, or -slice bits of pure mango.
What about that middle section with the stone?
Get messy! If you're lucky, a friend or family member will like chewing on the stone. Otherwise, use a knife to trim the remaining sweet fruit from the stone