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August 17, 2007

Mangosteens

Dominic Armato
Setting aside restaurants and such, one of the things I love about being overseas is just seeing new ingredients. I've heard of mangosteens before, but never seen or tasted a fresh one, mostly because fresh mangosteens have been almost completely unattainable in the States. But read on, this isn't a tease. The mangosteen, grown primarily in Thailand, has been illegal in the States in fresh form for quite some time due to Asian fruit fly fears. Frozen, canned and other products derived from them have been available, usually in Asian markets, but from what I'm told, these don't hold a candle to the fresh item (which really shouldn't come as a surprise). Apparently there is a small boutique grower in Puerto Rico who has been shipping very limited amounts to New York and Los Angeles, but they've been almost impossible to come by both in terms of availability (borderline nonexistent) and price (upwards of $45/pound... and very little of that is edible fruit). The US government, however, has JUST last month approved the importation of mangosteens provided they undergo mild irradiation to eliminate any fruit fly issues. Thai growers are already undergoing FDA certification, and they're expected to hit the States come September. So what can you expect when they do?

Dominic Armato
The one I tried was a solid, dense little fruit about two and a half inches across. Shame on me, I didn't do my research first, so rather than scoring the rind and carefully peeling it away, I just hacked the sucker in half. Somewhat less graceful, and it eliminated any chance I had at photographing the citrus-like white segments inside, but it was no less edible. The rind was a lot thicker than I anticipated, and there were two large seeds inside, leaving me with precious little edible flesh. A few tablespoons, at most. So I just scooped out the white flesh with a spoon and sucked it down. The texture was vaguely reminiscent of a lychee, but much squishier and juicier. As for the flavor... well... it's really hard to describe. How do you describe how corn tastes? It just tastes like corn. The mangosteen is very tropical, with hints of kiwi and citrus and peach, and a very light, natural milkiness. It's a highly agreeable little fruit. I guess the best I can do is to say that it's very complex, but very mellow -- sweet but not too sweet, tart but not too tart, milky but not too milky -- just unique and gentle and absolutely delicious. So I guess the take-home message is that everybody should absolutely try them as soon as they're available, which should, thankfully, be very soon.

Comments

Fascinating fruit. My question, however, is: when would it ever be worth it to spend $45/pound on it? Even in a shortage? I'd just leave it alone, myself.

No argument here, Extra P. It's not so amazing a fruit that I'd be willing to spend that kind of money beyond once or twice just to try them. But then I've been known to drop large chunks of money on small amounts of truffles and foie, so I'm not exactly in a position to throw stones :-)

In any case, all indications are that this won't be a concern for long. Once the Thai Mangosteens hit they won't be cheap, I'm sure, but they aren't going to command absurd prices like that.

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