When I was a kid I used to eat them for breakfast and then one or two after lunch, and a couple after dinner, and if I was hungry in between, which I invariably was, I would eat them as a snack. My grandmother was afraid I was going to get an upset stomach but that never happened, my body was not only accustomed to the fruit, it craved it.There are very few people who do not like our national fruit (yes, we actually have a national fruit) – the mango. Mangoes bring some respite to our hot Indian summers – it’s excruciatingly hot but at least we have mangoes.

Growing up in North Karnataka, we had a variety of mangoes and I loved them all. After moving to Pune I married into a household of mango snobs. They would eat nothing other than the Alphonso. They would deviate only by using the Pairi variety of mangoes to make ambrass. Ambrass was eaten with chapattis and on special occasions — puri. I did not like to share my palate with other flavours when eating the ambrass – no elaichi and kesar in my ambrass please, I preferred eating it plain – bowls full. Much to my mother-in-law’s dismay, I would always ensure a few bowls were taken out for me before all the spices were added.

I do not like mangoes with cream or the latest fad mango lassi. Take the mango, cut is and eat it as including sucking on the pit. But my dear mango snobs would eat their Alphonsoes every which way – ice cream, milkshakes, ambrass –puri. This was okay for them as their metabolism could handle the calories. I would prefer to save my calories for the fruit itself. Nutrients and calories were not in our vocabulary when growing up so the health aspect of the mango never came into question, but as a nutritionist I was happy to note that the fleshy fruit is packed with vitamins and minerals – vitamin A and E as well as iron and selenium. Good for us all. Each medium size mango has approximately 100 calories which may not sound like a lot but if you are eating 3-4 mangoes a day during the season – that is about 2500 calories extra a week. You are bound to gain weight. But it is summer and it is hot – eat one less roti at meal times and everything will balance itself out.

Nearly 70% of the mangoes produced in the world come from India and none tastes like the Alphonso – that is why is it known as the king of all fruits. The humid coastal region of Devgad and its unique red soil give the Alphonso its special taste and flavour. I love the Alphonso but I missed the other jesters of the court that I was accustomed to eating every summer. I would also try different varieties of mangoes when travelling and even liked the Chausa mangoes from the North.

Here are a few varieties:

Alphonso —The best are known to come from the Ratnagiri area of Maharashtra and some from Gujarat and Karnataka. This firm and fibreless variety is named after Afonso de Albuquerque, who brought the variety to India from Brazil during this tenure as the Portuguese administrator and admiral of Goa. This mango was later locally perfected in the region and the rest is history.

Banganapalli — This large sized mango is widely cultivated in south India. The pulp is fibreless, firm and yellow with sweet taste. Bombay Green This mid-size mango has soft and sweet pulp. Chausa This large late- maturing variety allowed me to eat mangoes during the rainy season. Dashehari I used to enjoy this variety on my trips to Delhi. Medium sized, firm and fibreless pulp. Fazli Large and late maturing, indigenous to Bihar and West Bengal. If you are missing mangoes in July, then ask for Fazlis. Gulab Khas Small and indigenous to Bihar. It has rosy flavour. Himsagar This medium sized, yellow mango is very popular in West Bengal. Kesar Apricot yellow colour and medium sized it is popular in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat and Maharashtra Kishenbhog Fruits are medium to large sized and the flesh is firm with fibres. Langra Lemon yellow in color and mid-sized. The pulp is somewhat fibrous. Mankurad Popular in Goa this mango is medium sized with yellow skin. Flesh is firm and fibreless.

Mulgoa — This variety found in southern states is one of the best for making pickles.

Neelum — Medium sized with soft fibreless flesh. Pairi One of the first to come to the markets in Maharashtra. Soft, medium sized, the slightly fibrous type makes for excellent ambrass with its sweet and tangy taste.

Totapuri — Large sized and less sweet with fibreless flesh.

There are over 100 varieties of mangoes in India grown in nearly every region except the hilly ones. Here are a few favourites by region:

South: In Karnataka I grew up with Alphonso, Totapuri, Banganapalli, Pairi, Neelum, Mulgoa and the Ankola Ishad which is quite fibrous –you will need floss after eating it. In Andhra Pradesh they have the Banganapalli, Suvarnarekha, Neelum and Totapuri

North: In Haryana the Chausa, Dashehari, Langra and Fazli are the favourites. UP prefers Bombay Green, Chausa, Dashehari and Langra – all are favourite for exports from UP. Punjab — Chausa, Dashehari and Malda

West: Maharashtra — Alphonso, Pairi, and Kesar Gujratis love a variety including Kesar, Alphonso, Rajapuri, Jamadar, Totapuri, Neelum, Dashehari and Langra

East: West Bengal — Fazli, Gulabkhas, Himasagar, Kishenbhog, Langra and Bombay Green

Published in Spice Route Magazine, May 2011

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