Mangoes are not eaten as routinely in America as are apples and pears, for instance, but if you ever try a fully ripe, sweet juicy mango, you will want to try it again and again. Eaten by themselves or in a variety of dishes, mangoes add antioxidants and fiber to your diet.
The "king of fruits" has been around for at least 6,000 years. Native to India and Burma, this sweet fruit was described in the ancient Sanskrit literature — for example, in Valmiki's Ramayana. The mango was also the fruit of the kings in ancient India, where princes used to pride themselves on the possession of large mango gardens. Persian traders took the fruit into the Middle East while the Portuguese brought it to Europe and the New World. Mango cultivation arrived in Florida in the 1830s and in California in the 1880s, and now it is also grown in Hawaii, Mexico and South America.
Ever since the Vedic period, mangoes have been highly appreciated in ayurvedic healing and cooking. Mango trees belong to the same family as cashews and pistachios, and can grow to the height of 50 feet in India. All parts of the tree are used for different purposes. The bark, leaf, flowers, fruit and seed offer a variety of medicinal purposes. There are also over a thousand varieties of mangoes that vary in shape from round to pear-shaped to narrow and oval, and can weigh as much as four pounds each.
Ripe mangoes are succulent and sweet, with a yellow-orange or red skin. They are ready to eat when they are soft to touch and yield to gentle pressure. They should also omit a full fruity aroma from the stem end. Most supermarket mangoes are green, but you can ripen them at room temperature. Once they ripen, store them in the refrigerator for up to three days. The best eating mango is fibre free, but even a stringy mango can be sweet and juicy.
Ayurveda considers ripe mango sweet and heating. It balances all the three doshas and acts as an energizer.
Green, unripe mango is also used in Indian cooking. Several varieties are especially cultivated for using raw. Green mango could be picked long before ripening while it is still hard. The fruit is grated and added to dhals and vegetables, or made into chutneys and pickles. The ayurvedic qualities of green mango are sour, astringent and cooling. They should not be eaten alone or in large quantities because they can aggravate the doshas, especially Pitta dosha. However, prepared ayurvedically, in combination with spices (for example, in a chutney), they help digestion and improve the flavor of food.
Mangoes are in season from January through August, peaking in June. Mangoes from South Florida are the best in the United States, since the soil and climate are ideal. Try to find organic mangoes that have not been treated with fertilizers or pesticides. Also beware of imported mangoes, which are often irradiated or sprayed with chemicals banned in the United States. Your supermarket or grocer can tell you where the fruits are from.
Mangoes are rich in antioxidants, such as beta carotene and vitamin C. Antioxidants have been shown to play an important role in the prevention of cancer and heart disease.
They also contain bioflavonoids, the compounds that help plants capture energy from the sun, and when eaten they aid our immune system. Mangoes also supply potassium and fiber and are low in calories. The insoluble fiber, abundant in mangoes, aids the elimination of waste from the colon and helps prevent constipation.
Mangoes support all the seven dhatus (body tissues) and provide a very satisfying snack or dessert. An ayurvedic mango lassi provides a great refreshing drink for any summer meal. A milk-mango shake cools the physiology and helps weight gain. Mango Chutney makes a delicious and spicy accompaniment to any dish. Mangoes can also be added to puddings, salads or fruit desserts. Try to use fresh mango instead of canned mango purée, which is void of the nutritional benefits of fresh fruit and may contain added sugar.
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