Mango comes from the genus Mangifera. It is indigenous to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia, and cultivated and distributed widely in the world. The mango is one of the most commonly used fruits as a food, juice, flavor, color and fragrance. It also is the fruit most eaten in the world. Its leaves are used in floral decorations at weddings and religious ceremonies in Asia and it is the national fruit of India and The Philippines. Its name comes from either “mange” or “mangai” from Indian languages or from “manga” in Malayalam. The Portuguese discovered it in the early 16th century and called it “manga” and somehow it was changed to mango in English.
The elegant evergreen mango trees can grow to over 100 feet. More impressively, they are a very long-lived tree; one known to be over 300 years old is still producing mangoes! The leaves begin as reddish-pink, turning glossy red and finally deep green when fully mature. The flowers have a scent reminiscent of lily of the valley. The mango is a drupe and has both cling and freestone varieties.
Fruits take up to six months to ripen. They range in size and color, depending on the variety, and can be yellow, yellow-green, reddish-green, green, red and orange. The fruit is rich and delicious, and varies in flavor by variety. Some varieties are very soft when ripe, some firm like canteloupe, and some are fibrous. The mango has a single flat, ovoid seed inside that may be fibrous or hairy depending on the cultivar.
Mangoes grow well throughout the tropics; as a result, there are over l000 varieties worldwide. While India is the largest producer of mangoes, its crops account for only one percent of mangoes around the world. The Alphonso variety is considered one of the best and is very popular in the US.
Mangoes are eaten ripened and unripened. Some people enjoy green mangoes with chile pepper and salt. Children in mango-growing countries often eat them green off the trees just as children in temperate climates eat green apples. Who knows why! Mangoes are used in sweet and savory foods, as juice, as chutney and conserve, in jellies, ice cream and fruit bars, smoothies, dried in cereals and eaten out-of-hand fresh or dried.
The mango is considered a super-fruit because of its high nutritional qualities. It contains vitamins A, C and E, dietary fiber, polyphenols, carotenoids, and omega-3 and -6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Mango skin is equally nutritious–filled with vitamins, fiber and other nutritional superstars.