A mango is a tropical fruit that originated in Southeast Asia. Food historians believe the mango has been cultivated for over 4,000 years in the areas in which it was initially found. It is now grown in most countries with tropical or near tropical climates. There are over 100 different types of mangoes, but most popularly known in the US are those species imported from Mexico and South America.
The mango fruit is a drupe, like nectarines and apricots, a fleshy fruit growing around a long flat seed. The fruits have an average length of five inches (12.7 cm) and weigh an average of one pound (approximate .5 kg). The ripened skin may be primarily yellow, or may be multi-hued with orange and red tones.
The mango tree is quite large. The largest can grow to be 65 feet (19.81 m) tall. Those trees in less than ideal climates may only achieve a third of that height when fully grown. The fruit was introduced to Southern California in the late 19th century, and with occasional frosts, the mature trees there are usually no more than 20 feet (6.09 m) tall.
Mangoes contain some of the same oils as do poison oak and poison ivy, and some people can have an allergic reaction to the oils on both the fruit skin and the leaves of the tree. In any case, the skin is not edible and is quite hard even when the fruit is ripe. The interior of most mangoes is a deep orange, though some varieties in Asia have white flesh.
When fully ripe, the mango may still be somewhat difficult to eat, as it is very juicy. Mangoes are best served either in long slices or in bite-sized cubes. They are still somewhat firm when ripe, and are also fibrous, composed of many long thin fibers that easily get stuck in between the teeth.
There is a distinct difference between mangoes purchased in stores in the US, in areas where they are not cultivated, and mangoes that can be obtained fresh off the tree. Most imported mangoes are picked unripe and allowed to ripen in transit. They do not attain the sugar levels, and hence the sweetness, of a freshly picked mango. If visiting a country where mangoes proliferate, one should definitely try them fresh, as they are far superior to the supermarket mangoes most can get in the US.
Mangoes are used in a number of dishes of Asian, Indian and South American origin. Many are familiar with the drink, Mango Lassi, in Indian and Himalayan restaurants. It combines pureed mango, yogurt and honey into a sweet and very popular smoothie drink. One may note mango added to salsas, particularly in Latin countries. Pork stir-fried with mango, or mango served with the popular sticky rice, are well-known Asian dishes.
American recipes suggest adding pureed mango to muffins and cookies. The fruit can either be offered in a dessert such as a mango crisp, or paired with light meats like pork, chicken or shrimp. It is a particularly nice addition to fruit salads and smoothies.