June 1, 2010
In Hawai‘i, nothing signals the beginning of summer better than your first taste of a fresh-picked, juicy mango. That sweet fragrant fruit literally reeks of homegrown summer. While Mainlanders may equate the taste of summer with a crisp, cool watermelon, residents of Hawai‘i know that mangoes mean summertime.
On any given sun-filled morning, you may awaken to find a bagful of the delectable offerings squatting on your front porch. Your Uncle Kimo, Auntie Pua, or a neighbor whose trees dangled in mango abundance, simply wanted to share the aloha with you. Suck ‘em up! As you enjoy your bountiful treasure, you will likely return the favor by baking mango bread to share with your hospitable benefactor.
First farmed over 4,000 years ago in India and Malaysia, the mango tree grows quickly—reaching heights of 30 to 50 feet—and is enduring, with some hearty specimens living over 300 years. This luscious “Queen of Fruits” thrives only in warm climates. If temperatures drop to less than 40-degrees Fahrenheit damage can occur.
Peach-like and juicy, mangoes are a drup (seed-containing) fruit, related to cashews and pistachios. They are rich in beta-carotene, nutritious, and low in calories. But—as some folks have learned the hard way— mangoes can cause allergic reactions in those who are sensitive to urushiol, which is the culprit also found in poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac. This substance is present in the oil and sap on the skin and leaves of the mango.
Types of mangoes
Once the Europeans “discovered” the mango back in the 1700s, they quickly shared and planted the succulent botanical jewels around the world. The mango first arrived in Hawai‘i in the 1800s, and according to Marie C. Neal’s book In Gardens of Hawaii, more than 500 varieties are recognized and flourishing in orchards and dooryards around globe. What’s your favorite?
The main types grown in Hawai‘i are Haden and Pirie. The mild flavored Haden was introduced to the islands by Capt. John Haden, who imported it from India. The smaller, spicy Pirie arrived with S.M. Damon, who first planted the tree in Moanalua Gardens, reportedly in 1899. Yet, many other types abound, whether in yards or markets. Almost everyone is familiar with the common Chinese mango, Haden, and Pirie, but have you tried the Irwin, Tommy Atkins, Kent, or Keitt? How about the cigar mango?
How to choose a mango
Surprisingly, color doesn’t necessarily determine the ripeness of the fruit. First, handle the mango, which should feel heavy compared to its size. This indicates juiciness. Next, gently press the flesh. If it yields slightly and smells yummy and floral, it is ready. Always choose several mangoes in varying stages of ripeness, so that you have some for eating immediately and some for later. Green mangoes can also be pickled or sliced and soaked in a shoyu (soy sauce), sugar, vinegar mixture and sprinkled with li hing mui (salty, dried plum) powder.* The mix may turn your mouth inside out, but it is a favorite with locals.
So whether you are strolling down mango memory lane, remembering your island childhood or blending a mango smoothie, the taste of that first succulent mango of the season will always mean summertime in Hawai‘i.
REMINDER: Use caution when picking mangoes near electrical wires. You want to live to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
For a wealth of mango recipes go to:
*To learn about li hing mui, an island favorite, go to: