As we enter into the month of March many of us are craving tropical fruits and the warm, sweet sunshine they bring to our kitchens. I am reminded every year by Travis, the produce manager at our Franklin store, that March is mango month. I then remind him that mangoes don’t really come into season until April or May and that we should call it “May-ngo” month instead. I like his catch phrase “March On Mangoes” though, because at this time of year, I really feel like I’m just “marching on”; waiting for spring to come, waiting for local farmers to start selling their first harvests, waiting for the days to get longer and the air to become fragrant with tree blossoms.
Mangoes are one of the world’s most popular fruits and there are hundreds of varieties, yet we are only fortunate enough to sample a few here in Minnesota. The types of mangoes that come through our doors are: Tommy Atkins, Kent, Keitt, Ataulfo, and if we’re really lucky, the Francique mango from Haiti.
Tommy Atkins, Kent and Keitt mangos are rounded and green to golden red skinned. When ripe, the fruit is sweet and luscious.
Ataulfo Mangos, also known as champagne mangos, are oblong with a smooth skin ranging from greenish to deep golden. The smooth, custardy flesh is piney sweet, sometimes accented with a bit of a tang.
A related variety, the Francique, comes from Haiti tasting musky sweet. These mangos are Haiti’s top export crop and, in some areas, represent a solution to the country’s massive deforestation problem – if small farmers can sell export-quality fruit from grafts on weed-mango trees, they won’t chop the trees and sell them for charcoal. We hope to see some this season.
Pick a mango by its smell and feel. A ripe mango will smell exciting, and will give when you press it very gently, like a peach. Ripen mangos by leaving them on the counter in a paper bag or with a banana. Whatever you do, don’t refrigerate them! This discolors the flesh and leaches out the flavor. If you cut one that’s gray inside, it’s probably been chilled. Mostly, skin color doesn’t indicate ripeness; sometimes what’s green on the outside is sunshiny orange inside.
Mangoes complement many foods including: ice cream, soft cheese, fish and seafood, chicken, and black bean soup, to name a few. They can be diced and added to salsas, mixed with banana and papaya for a tropical salad, or blended into smoothies. Mango chutney is a classic condiment for Indian meals. While most people love the mango for its sweetness, you can eat them even when green. Sprinkled with chili powder and lime juice, they taste a lot like pickles.
Most mangos that come from outside the US are dipped in a hot water bath. Mangos hate this! They are dipped in this hot water bath to remove a potentially invasive fruit fly species that are prevalent in certain areas of Mexico and South America. It changes the texture and flavor-which is why we are always especially excited when we can source undipped mangoes. The Baja region doesn’t have these types of fruit flies, so they are usually undipped when they sourced from that region. Once ripe, they are especially sweet and juicy. Undipped mangos are only available infrequently, so indulge!