I was minding my own business, watching a little mindless tube. An ad for a well-known brand of room air freshener spray flashed by, the featured scent being ‘Pineapple & Mangosteen’.
It brought back scent memory but I wondered: How many watchers know what a mangosteen is? Do they even know it’s a fruit? How many have tasted one? How many think it is one of those, more ubiquitous, yellow-orange fleshed lovelies? Or from the spelling, is this the mango’s middle-eastern ‘cousin’?
Well, the mangosteen is totally different from the mango. It is about the size and dark purplish-red colour of a plum, with pale green calyx and stem sticking out of the top. The outer pericarp (rind) is hard, inedible and bitter. You are after the white 4-6 segments inside, most with a single seed in the centre. Segments are scented, juicy and, at least to me, indescribably delicious. When fresh, you can hold the fruit firmly in one hand and twist off the top half with the other hand, revealing the treasure within. When a little older, the rind gets tougher. But you can partially score it with a knife, and then twist it off.
Indigenous to Indonesia, probably the Lesser Sunda Islands, the tree is now cultivated in other parts of Southeast Asia and reportedly in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. No mean feat as growing these is tricky. There are seeds in the fruit but reproduction is asexual. As a clone of the mother tree in fact. Apparently there are no known pollen-forming male trees or parts. To date, mangosteens have only illegally and spottily been available in the US due to food safety and pest regulations. Apparently, irradiation and cultivation on US soil has tackled this.
I was lucky to have discovered mangosteens while travelling with husband in Indonesia in 1993, qualifying as eons ago! Though I took no photos of the fruit, I have kept a small booklet about Indonesian fruits supplied by our hotel. A scan of the relevant page details how it is considered a ‘gift for the Gods’. There are plenty of taste testimonials on-line. The mangosteen has been called ‘The Queen of Fruits’. Queen Victoria offered knighthood in exchange for a mangosteen in prime perfect condition. All who tried failed due to the long journey from Southeast Asia. Another website quotes travel notes made in 1878 by ‘T.W.K.’ as follows:
“This pulp melts away in your mouth after the manner of a ripe peach or strawberry; it has a taste which nobody can describe any more than he can tell how a canary sings or a violet smells, and I know of nothing more forcible than the statement of a Yankee skipper who pronounced the mangosteen the ‘bang-upest fruit’ he had ever seen.”
There are many websites devoted to health-improvement properties of the mangosteen, touted to have magical medical benefits. Everything from anti-aging to antioxidant to antibacterial to anti-cancer properties. You can purchase it in umpteen forms from supplements to juice, teas and jam.
I have found the fruit once about fifteen years ago in a better grocery store in Toronto. A bit disappointing in taste as mangosteens must be enjoyed fresh, close to where grown. What a great excuse to travel again!