Samui Wining & Dining
The Mighty Mango

The world’s most frequently consumed fruit.

The world’s most frequently consumed fruit.If you're on holiday in Thailand, one of the fruits you'll come across just about everywhere is the mango. With its wonderful taste, even people who generally shy away from eating fruit make a beeline for it. You can both eat it and drink it – everywhere in Thailand it’s available as a shake or a juice, not just as a fruit.

It is considered by many people to be the king of all fruits. In India it’s been part of the national diet for at least 4,000 years. One of the most celebrated mogul emperors, Akbar, is said to have had an orchard with an astonishing 100,000 mango trees, some of which are still going strong. The mango plays a sacred role in India; it’s also a symbol of love and some even believe the fruit is lucky and can grant wishes. The leaves of the tree are used in weddings to ensure that the couple have many children.

The mango is widely lauded for its rich, sweet yet slightly sour taste. It’s incredibly popular in many countries, and there are 20 million metric tons of mangoes grown throughout the tropical and sub-tropical world, with the leading producer being India. Commentators have made the observation that mangoes are to India what olives are to Greece.

Cultivated in South Asia for thousands of years, mangoes spread to East Asia between the fifth and fourth centuries BC. In the fifth century BC, Buddhist monks are believed to have introduced the mango to South-East Asia, with legends of the Buddha finding tranquillity in a mango grove.

By the year 1,000 AD, they were being grown in East Africa. Later they started to be cultivated in Brazil, Mexico and the Caribbean. India produces over half the world’s mangoes, but exports very few – Indians love them, and 99% are eaten within the country.

The word mango can be traced back to the Portuguese word, manga, which originated just prior to the 1500s, from the trade that the Portuguese carried out with Kerala in India. The word turns out to be from the Malayam language. It passed into the written language as manga, and for some reason that nobody’s been able to clarify, ended up with a change of syllable in English – mango. It was certainly of both medicinal and commercial value to the Malabars who traded it, and it was imported as a pickle to the colonies of 1700s America.

Over the years the fruit has become so popular that even using its name out of context seems to generate popularity. Today the word, mango, can be variously used for some very diverse brands: it can refer to a software viewer of medical imagery, a satellite, an airline, or a Catalan clothing company. Mango can also refer to music. There’s an Italian singer with the name Mango, a Lithuanian pop group, a US record label, a Venezuelan salsa group and lastly a radio station in India. All called Mango.

It’s popular in cartography too; Mango Creek is a village in Belize while Mango is a district of the Indian town of Jamshedpur; variously it’s also a commune in Italy, a town in Togo, and a community in Florida. Lastly – and with no connection at all to the fruit at all – there are even languages called Mango. There are two of them; one is a Sudanic language, spoken in Chad, Africa. The other is a dialect of Min Chinese. All that links the two is the word itself.

Mango trees are very tall and can grow up to 40 metres in height. And they're amazingly long-lived. The fruit you're eating may have come from a tree that was around when Louis XIV was on the throne, and Spanish galleons plied the high seas – some 300 years ago. Over 400 varieties of mangoes are known, many of which ripen in summer, while some produce a double crop. The fruit takes three to six months to fully ripen. Once ripe, you can observe a variety of colours from yellow, red, orange and green.

The fruit itself is so widely grown, and so tasty, that it’s become the world’s most consumed fruit. It’s also incredibly healthy. Many studies tentatively suggest that if you increase your consumption of plant foods like mangoes, then you'll decrease the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and at the same time increase your level of energy. The fibre, potassium and vitamin content in mangoes all help to ward off heart disease. An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium intake is the most crucial dietary change that a person can make to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Mangoes are also great for your hair, because they contain vitamin A, and are good for all tissues in the body, including the skin. Mangoes also contribute copper, calcium and iron to the diet as well as antioxidants such as beta-carotene. They're good for bones and for keeping a healthy digestive tract. Food scientists who directly tested mango extracts on colon, breast, lung, leukaemia and prostate cancers in vitro found that mangoes had some impact on each and every type they tested, but were most effective with breast and colon cancers.

On a slightly negative note, however, wonderful as the mango might be, its leaves and wood are considered toxic, and the burning of them isn’t advised, as the fumes can cause serious irritation of the eyes. If you suffer from a latex allergy, you may also be allergic to mangoes. And if your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, then mangoes should be avoided.

It’s not for nothing that the mango is the world’s most eaten fruit, surpassing the popular apple, banana and orange. Filled with taste and health-giving properties, you can make your diet both more fun and healthier by factoring in the mighty mango.


Natalie Hughes


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