Nectar of the Gods

Mangoes are probably the most loved fruit across the world, because statistically, more mangoes are eaten fresh than any other fruit. A native of South East Asia, the mango combines luscious juicy pleasures with sensible, nutritious eating.
It is summer in Asia, and one of the biggest attractions of an Asian summer are mangoes. By the end of spring, little buds of the fruit start appearing on the dark glossy foliage of the evergreen mango trees. The lighter green bunches of little bulbs soon become little mangoes, which would become ripe, golden, juicy orbs of delight as summer progresses. An Indian summer is made of messy mango eating sessions, fragrance of mango blossoms and acerbic drinks made with mangoes.

Not only in India but also across the world, mangoes are one of the most loved fruits. It is believed that its origins were in the Indian subcontinent, almost 4000 years ago and there are any number of mythological narrations surrounding it in Indian folklore. Its name is derived from a Tamil word "Mang-Kay', which the Portuguese settlers in India ultimately changed to Mango.

Legend has it that this delicious fruit originated in the parts of Asia bordering the Bay of Bengal. Almost seven thousand years ago Buddhist monks are believed to have introduced this fruit to Malaysia. Trade further dispersed the fruit to further West and East, especially into Middle East with Persian traders, traveling to Africa, then Brazil and West Indies. By 1830s it had reached Florida and California.

The tree grows only in sub-tropical climates, so this tree flourishes all along the tropics, and so does the fruit. In fact, the hotter the climate, the sweeter the fruit. A member of the Anachardiaceae family, this fruit is distantly related to the cashew, pistachio, Jamaica plum, poison ivy and poison oak.

The tree itself may grow up to 60 feet tall and bear fruit four to six years after planting. As the climate gets hotter and drier, the fruit gets ripe, sweet and bigger. Covering almost all the tropical countries, there are about 1000 varieties of mangoes now growing in the world. Together, all the countries produce almost 20 million metric tons of mangoes, and it is exported to bigger markets in huge quantities too. India tops the list as the leading producer, but very little is exported as most of it is consumed within the country.

Apart from being the symbol of an Indian summer, these fruits are bursting with nutrients too. To begin with, they contain vitamin C as raw mangoes, and have the distinctive sharp sourness. This makes it almost indispensable for consumption to combat the prohibitive heat of the South East Asian plains. A number of indigenous food preparations take care of this need and its best known form, raw mangoes are boiled and their pulp made into a drink with certain cooling spices. This drink, called Panna, is stored in every Indian household throughout summers, as an effective preventive cure as well as remedy for heatstroke. In other forms, the raw mango chutney adds spice to life while just slices of raw mango eaten with a bit of rock salt add the Zing!!

Scientifically, as the mango ripens, it gets its load of vitamin A and C, both essential nutrients for our body. Also, with maturity, a mango gets a larger volume of beta carotene in its chemical composition, and it is by now common knowledge that beta- carotene has some extremely desirable qualities, one of them being the ability to delay the aging process, and cleaning the body system of toxins. Potassium is another of its treasures, about 156 mg found in 3.5 ounce mango slices. The fruit is high in fiber but low in calories and fat, and actually has the power to fill you up. This high fiber composition ensures that it is good for the heart, the intestine and ensures less strenuous on the liver.

Clinical psychologists maintain that mango is some sort of comfort food, imparting deep psychological satisfaction, because of their stomach soothing properties, due to the presence of an enzyme - papain (which is also found in the papaya). A happy digestion means a happier you!

Because of this enzyme, the mango is an excellent tenderizer for meats, and its superiority comes from the fact that it also provides flavor to the meat that is marinated in its luscious pulp. In Indian cooking, dried mango powder is usually an indispensable part of the spice tray, because of these properties, and its ability to help in digestion. The powder is called amchur and brings the distinctly sour flavor of a raw mango to your food, when added in small quantities.

In indigenous medicine, every part of the tree was used, its bark, leaves, skin or oil.... to cure a variety of ailments - its medicinal properties range from anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-septic, anti-tussive (cough), anti-asthmatic, expectorant, cardiotonic, contraceptive to , aphrodisiac, hypotensive, laxative, stomachic (beneficial to digestion) benefits. In fact, mangiferin found in the stem bark of the mango tree has been fund to be rich in splenocytes which can be used as a cure for inhibiting the growth of tumor in its initial stages. So who knows, one day mangoes may become the cure for carcinoma and malignant tumors.

It's not for nothing that one of the tastiest fruits on earth, the mango, is called the King of Fruits.
By Kanika Goswami
Published: 5/10/2004
Bouquets and Brickbats