Some say it’s because of the popularity of Latin American cuisine and the influx of immigrants from south of the border. Others say it’s because of heightened interest in nutritious and exotic foods. Still others, simply because the supply has improved. Whatever the reason or reasons, mango consumption in the United States has steadily crept upwards over the past three decades.
Back in 1980, Americans ate only about 1/4 pound of the tropical fruit per capita. That number doubled to a little more than 1/2 a pound in 1990, doubled again to a little more than a full pound in 1996, then doubled again to just over two pounds in both 2003 and 2004, according to Agnes Perez of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Services in Washington, D.C.
But don’t go declaring a state of mango mania just yet. “It’s not really a big commodity item,” said Ken Cospito, vice president of sales at Gargiulo Produce in Hillside, a wholesale produce distributor currently handling mangoes imported from Brazil.
Despite the mango’s strong Latin connection, it is most deeply rooted not in the Western Hemisphere, but in the East; in India, to be exact — the world’s largest mango grower and consumer. Descended from a wild tree still found in northeastern India, Mangifera indica, or the Indian mango, has been cultivated in India since at least 2000 B.C. From there, it spread eastward to China.
By the time it traveled west, reaching Persia in the 10th century, in its native land it had become a status symbol whose cultivation was “the prerogative of rajas and nawabs,” wrote Alan Davidson in “The Oxford Companion to Food” (Oxford University Press, 1999). The Portuguese introduced mangoes from South India to Africa in the 16th century. They were brought to Brazil and the West Indies in the 18th century, and to Florida, Mexico and Hawaii in the 19th.
Whereas in Latin America the mango is most often enjoyed as a fruit course, in India, “they transform it into pulp and eat that pulp fresh as a side dish with the meal,” said Deepak Amin, vice president of Deep Foods in Union, which counts mango ice cream made from canned Kesar mango pulp among its products. For fresh eating, the Alphonso variety is India’s favorite. “It’s not as sweet as the Kesar, but it’s considered the king of mangoes in India,” said Amin.
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