On Mangosteen – are they really everything they are cracked up to be?
“No other fruit, for me, is so thrillingly, intoxicatingly luscious…I’d rather eat one than a hot fudge sundae, which for a big Ohio boy is saying a lot.”
R W Apple Jr, The New York Times
The full name of the mangosteen is the purple mangosteen (its scientific name is Garcinia mangostana) – and it’s a shame that the colourful adjective gets left off so often because its hue is indeed gorgeous, deep, rich, and many-layered. Photographs often don’t do it justice, but perhaps this one, to the side gives some idea.
The mangosteen is a tropical fruit (most come from Thailand, many from Indonesia, this particular one came from India) and it’s considered by many to be something pretty special. It’s sweet, tangy, and juicy and the white segments contained within it have slightly fibrous flesh made up of fluid-filled vessels like a citrus fruit.
They are very difficult to transport which adds to their exoticism and rareity, but modern techniques are resulting in them being more easily available. In past times Queen Victoria apparently offered £100 to any man who could bring her a fresh mangosteen.
What do they taste like?
The flavour is hard to describe (“words can no more describe how mangosteens taste than explain why I love my wife and children” Mr Apple goes on to tell us), but it’s a bit like a sweet, slightly citrusy lychee.
How to choose the best
To choose them, bear in mind that the darker their colour, the better the taste. The ones with the greatest number of stigma lobes (the ‘petals’ around the stem) have the most fleshy segments and the fewest seeds. When you squeeze them they should yield a bit to the touch, they should not be hard inside.
When are they available?
Ripening at different rates in different parts of the world and at different altitudes and amounts of shade mangosteen are generally available in Europe and America from April to October, although shaded Puerto Rican trees still produce fruit in November and December.
How should you eat a mangosteen?
To eat a mangosteen score the inedible purple peel with a knife, and prise open.
Simple as that. Or at least that’s the theory.
I bought my mangosteen at the Őstermalms Saluhall in Stockholm. And I took it onto the ferry to Estonia with me as part of my picnic. I’d arrived in Sweden by air, so I didn’t have my normal Girl Scout be-prepared pen-knife-and-corkscrew with me. I attacked my mangosteen with whatever I could find – the most hopeful implement being an ordinary table knife left in my cabin. But it was all to no avail…no assault on the rock hard skin… or rather shell… had any effect. In the end I had to go to the ship’s kitchen, and a chef there took a huge machete-looking implement to it. He didn’t speak English so I mimed what I needed, but not well enough. Technically you should turn the mangosteen upside down (stem downwards) and score around the middle with your super sharp knife. Then the top half of the shell will lift off, exposing the white flesh, in tact, for you to enjoy visually before you eat. Unfortunately the chef had cut the mangosteen down vertically.
I returned to my cabin, full of anticipation, to try the fruit. My opinion? Honestly?
Very little flesh, the seeds taking up quite a lot of the room inside the fruit. Slighly oyster, phlemy loose jelly texture.
Lychees are just as nice, and a lot less work!