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Colombia’s mangos featured at Fairchild festival

Vallenato, an heirloom mango variety from Colombia’s Atlantic Coast.
Vallenato, an heirloom mango variety from Colombia’s Atlantic Coast.
© 2014 George Leposky

The 22nd annual International Mango Festival at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden on Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and 13, 2014, featured the mangos of Colombia.

Colombian mangos were much in evidence at the festival, but Colombian mango growers weren’t. They had visa issues and couldn’t get clearance to come, a garden spokesperson explained.

In recent years, Colombia has become a major producer and exporter of mangos after building a hot-steam quarantine plant to guard against the spread of Mediterranean fruit flies to fly-free regions abroad.

In 2012, reported that Colombia devoted 8,160 acres to mango cultivation and produced more than 200,000 metric tons of the fruit. That year, the country had 44 municipalities with more than 100 acres of mango tree plantations.

Curator’s choices

Two Colombian varieties – Azucar and Vallenato – were among the Curator's Choice selections offered for sale during the festival.Azucar (sugar) bears the name of the sweet cane sugar that grows in Colombia’s tropical lowlands, and it tastes like sugar cane. It’s Colombia’s de facto national mango, readily available in street markets. The flesh is saffron yellow and has fiber throughout. People eat it by squeezing it and then sucking out the pulp.

Vallenato is an heirloom variety from Colombia’s Atlantic Coast. It’s a large mango with a vivid red skin and an oval shape. Fairchild’s festival program says the Vallenato tastes like apricot and citrus, but my tastebuds detected more of a coconut flavor.

Other mangos grown in Colombia include Haden, Hilacha, Irwin, Keitt, Manila, Springfield, Tommy Atkins, Van Dyke, and Yulima. Unlike the U.S. and Mexico, where mangos have a definite season, Colombia is blessed with local mangos bearing fruit throughout the year.

Two highlights

A highlight of the festival, on Saturday morning only, was the Mango Bites Sampling – a selection of mango dishes and products from leading Miami-area restaurants, caterers, and businesses.

On both days, festival-goers queued up in long lines to participate in the annual Mango Tasting and Flavor Evaluations, where for $1 they joined a panel of expert tasters to compare several varieties of mangos and then vote for their favorite.

Other activities

The festival also offered opportunities to learn about advances in mango cultivation, sample the results, buy fruit to take home, and have a lot of fun. Other activities include:

• Cooking demonstrations featuring mango dishes prepared by celebrated local chefs.

• Yoga classes for adults and children.

• An international fruit market with multiple varieties of mangos for sale.

• Mangoville, where vendors and food trucks sold an extensive array of foods and beverages.

• The 15th Annual Mango Brunch

• Fairchild’s Wings of the Tropics exhibit, where tropical butterflies flitted about and alighted to feast on mangos.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is located at 10901 Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables.

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