Where Do Mangoes Come From?
Mangoes are one of the most popular fruits in the world—consumed most commonly worldwide, and the most cultivated fruit in the tropical world, with over 2,000 varieties. To most people in the United States, the mango is considered an exotic fruit, but to most people living in South Asia, this versatile fruit is commonly eaten. The Hindi name for mango is aam, which means “common,” as the fruit is a considered a staple and a commoner’s fruit.
History and Cultivation
The common mango species, or Mangifera indica, grows on the largest fruit tree in the world. Mango trees are native to northeast India, where Hindu writings about mangoes date back to 4000 B.C. Mangoes were domesticated in India, and spread to East Asia around 400 B.C. By the 10th century, mangoes were cultivated in East Africa, followed by the Philippines in the 15th century. Portuguese traders brought mango seeds along their route, spreading the trees to their African and Brazilian colonies in the 16th century.
The American colonies were introduced to mangoes in the 17th century. Mangoes were pickled for preservation, as there was no way to refrigerate them in those days. The term “mango” became synonymous with the verb “to pickle,” since they were most commonly eaten that way in the colonies. Even pickled bell peppers were referred to as mangoes.
Today, mangoes are grown in many tropical climates near the equator, as they are sensitive to frost, which makes them difficult to cultivate in many environments. India produces one-third of all mangoes grown worldwide, but most are consumed within India, and their mango exports only make up about 1% of internationally traded mangoes. India grows more mangoes than all other fruits combined. The People’s Republic of China is the second largest cultivator of mangoes. Spain, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Australia, and several other places in Asia also produce varieties of mangoes.
Mangoes’ long history has resulted in many varieties of the fruit existing. Mangoes were originally fairly small, with larger seeds, but over time and breeding, the quality of mangoes has improved. Now there are variations in sweetness, firmness, size, and texture, and mangoes are used in all types of meals – sweet, sour, or even savory.
Most mangoes eaten in the United States come from Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Guatemala, or Haiti. About 80% of mangoes in the United States are imported from Mexico. Mangoes have been grown in the United States for over 100 years, but not on a large commercial scale. Within the United States, mangoes are primarily grown in Florida, California, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico (which mainly exports to Europe). Hawaii has mango orchards, but most of their mangoes are sold locally.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says 35 million tons of mangoes were produced in 2009.
Top mango growers by country: (See Map)
- People’s Republic of China
Alphonso (Hapoos): Grown in western India, this cultivar is considered to be the best tasting in terms of flavor, sweetness, and richness, and is usually the most expensive variety. Hapoos are sometimes called the “Emperor of Mangoes.”
Dasheri: Grown especially in Malihabad, India, where this variety originated in the 18th century, these green and yellow mangoes are very popular in India.
Safeda: Also known as Banganpalli, this variety is named after Banganapalle, India, where they originated. Safeda mangoes are yellow and without fibers, which makes them very desirable.
The USDA program called Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction has focused on creating new varieties and introducing them to the region, with the goal of eventual exportation. Many mango varieties were created from this program.
The main varieties sold in the United States are:
Ataulfo: imported from Mexico
Francis: imported from Haiti
Haden: imported from Mexico
Keitt: from Mexico and the United States
Kent: imported from Mexico, Ecuador, Peru (though originally cultivated in Florida)
Tommy Atkins: The most widely produced variety, which is imported into the United States, from Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. Originally cultivated in Florida, Tommy Atkins is descended from Haden variety, and are resistant to disease, but inferior in taste to most other varieties.
Mangoes are important in many cultures, especially in South Asia. Mango is the national fruit of India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. The mango tree is the national tree of Bangladesh.
Buddhist monks cultivated mangoes, considering them sacred. In Buddhist folklore, Buddha was given a mango orchard by one of his followers, so that he could rest in the shade of the mango trees. It is believed that Buddha often meditated beneath the branches of a mango tree.
Fun fact: the mango is closely related to the pistachio and cashew!
September 13, 2011 Update:
We’ve added three new maps in this collection: