Huge golden mounds of mangoes are a delight to the weary summer eyes. Mangoes are easily the most favourite fruit in our country. One cannot think of summer and not think of mangoes. The hot humid days would become unbearable but for this heavenly fruit.
Scientifically mangoes belong to the genus Mangifera Indica, consisting of numerous species of tropical fruiting trees in the flowering plant family Anacardiaceae. The mango is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Cultivated in many tropical regions and distributed widely in the world, mango is one of the most popularly exploited fruits for food, juice, flavor, fragrance and color. Its leaves are ritually used as floral decorations at weddings and religious ceremonies.
Mangoes are a sweet favourite across the length and breadth of our country. Each region has its own favourite and some like the Alphonso are loved by every one. Mangoes are consumed both in its raw and ripe state. When raw, the mango is invariably green in color and really sour.
No summer is complete without the ritual of pickling raw mangoes. Whether as pieces or as shreds the variety of pickles that can be made are amazing. Sweet or savoury, spicy or not the mango pickles and murrabas are irresistible. The combinations it makes with chick peas, carrots, lemons and other such ingredients are marvelous. Pickles made in the northern parts of India taste very different from the ones made in the southern parts. The basic difference being that in the north usually mustard oil is used for pickles whereas down south the pickles are made in gingelly oil.
Raw mangoes are also used to make hot & spicy chutneys and even a sweet'n'sour concoction called loonji. In northern regions of India the raw fruit is used to make aam panna, which serves as a coolant against the hot dry winds Loo, which blow across northern and western India. The raw fruits are boiled and the pulp extracted to make this sweet & sour drink. With sugar and dried mint leaves it is the best protection available from the hot dry winds that blow in the northern regions. Raw mangoes are also the source for an important Indian spice aamchoor. It is deseeded and cut into thick pieces which are dried in the sun and then powdered. It is added to various dishes to give a tangy flavor.
Ripe mangoes come in different hues of yellow, orange and red depending upon the regional flavor. The fruit is often red on the side facing the sun and yellow where shaded. When ripe, the unpeeled fruit gives off a distinctive resinous sweet smell. In its center is a single flat oblong seed that can be fibrous or hairy on the surface.
When ripe, mangoes are easily the most delicious fruit around. Its heady aroma is enough to tempt the hardiest of them. Ripe mangoes are largely consumed as they are.
Peel them and dig your teeth into the heavenly flesh of this fruit. Peel them, cut in chunks and then devour them. Just slice them without peeling and eat the fruit right off the peel. Feeling too lazy to cut or peel them, no problem. Squeeze the fruit lightly with your hands softening it. Remove the part where the stalk joins the fruit and then suck that heavenly fruit pulp straight from the fruit. As they say it, "untouched by human hands." Do as you please or rather eat as you please.
A favourite north Indian way of consuming this fruit is the aamras. The fruit is peeled and cut into chunks. The mango chunks are then blended with a little milk, water and sugar. Voila it's ready. Normally this is consumed as a part of the meal rather than as a dessert. Another hot or should I say cold favourite is the amrakhand wherein mango puree is blended with hung curd and sugar. Many people add rose water, saffron strands and powdered cardamom to both these dishes to enhance the flavours.
In many parts of India the mango is also consumed as fruit bars or aam papad. Ripe mangoes are cut into thin layers and put together and then desiccated. It comes in two varieties: one is a pretty dry form and the other is a little more fleshy and juicy.
These are the traditional forms of consumption which are still the favorites. Today the mango is consumed as smoothies, ice-creams, and puddings, in custards, fruit salads and what not. Some creative chefs have also come up with interesting ways to combine them into traditional sweetmeats like kalakand (made from milk which has been thickened by boiling for hours).
The mango is not only a delicious fruit but also a good source of various vitamins and minerals. An excellent overall nutritional source, mango is rich in a variety of phytochemicals and nutrients that qualify it as a model superfruit. It is a rich source of not just antioxidant vitamins like A, C & E but also that of B Vitamins and essential nutrients like potassium, copper and 17 amino acids. The skin of certain varieties is edible and is a high source of dietary fiber. Even the seed is used for its medicinal properties.
So even as you indulge your self with this heavenly fruit think of all the vitamins and nutrients that it provides. It truly is a god send in the hot Indian summers. In fact it even makes one look forward to the other wise dreaded summers. Mangoes are truly the King of Fruits.