Dried mango comes in various shapes, forms, and sweetness levels, but “mamuang kuan” is definitely my favorite one. I have often bought this sweet and chevy treat at the markets. Recently, I discovered how easy it is to make yourself, and I have since become a […]
I thought it only suitable to dive into the subject of Thai desserts by sharing the recipe of the most famous, popular and loved of all: Mango w/sticky rice. In Thai it is called “Khao Niao Mamuang”. Khao Niao meaning sticky rice, and Mamuang being the […]
I love this time of the year when mangoes (“mamuang” in Thai) are in season, and there is an abundance of splendid mangoes everywhere you go. In Thailand, the mango season is from about April to June. You can buy mangoes all year round, but during the season they are at their best, and you will find piles of different varieties and ripeness stages of mangoes, that you don’t otherwise see during the rest of the year.
This makes mango season one of the best times of the year to visit Thailand. Forget about the heat and humidity of this period. Eating sweet locally produced Thai mangoes is a must-try, and the pleasures of the experience highly outways any discomfort caused by the weather.
As I am writing this, my next door neighbors are cutting down trees and bushes in their garden, removing almost everything. Gone are now papaya, mulberry, and pomegranate. But they saved the most glorious tree of them all: MANGO!! I assume the elimination of other vegetation is to allow the tree space to grow bigger and produce fruit more abundantly.
Mango trees are long-lived, they can grow to become 35 – 40 meters tall, and some specimens produce fruits for hundreds of years. The leaves are orangy pink when young, then changing into a glossy red, and later a dark green. The flowers have five white petals and blooms in the cold winter months, taking 4 – 5 months to turn into large fruits that reach the ripening stage in the hot season. The fruits are super cute when they are small. As they grow bigger, the mangoes are often seen dressed in small “paper coats” to protect the fruit from bugs and birds.
Mangoes don’t all ripen at the same time, so you can pick what you need, and leave the remaining fruit on the tree for later. It is common to see mangoes at the top of the trees being picked by using a long stick with a bamboo basket attached to it. You simply grab a mango with it and give it a tug. If the stem snaps off easily, it is ripe – or at least pretty close.
This is without a doubt the cutest mango tree I have spotted so far. The family planted it last year, and it is already producing fruit.
Mango is a juicy fruit with a smooth skin and a single flat oblong pit in the middle that carries a seed. They are generally sweet but differ in shape, size, color and eating quality depending on the cultivars. The pulp can be stringy and ranges from bright yellow to orange when ripe. Some have a firm texture, while others are softer. In most varieties, the pulp does not easily separate from the pit. Mangoes can weigh from just a few hundred grams to 2 kilos per fruit.
Mango varieties (of Thailand):
Before I dug deeper into the subject of mangoes, I ventured off to the markets with the intent to buy, taste, and take a picture of every mango variety. But oh my goodness!! I soon realized what an enormous and almost impossible task that is! There are around 500 varieties worldwide of which approximately 100 are grown in Thailand. So even if I spent the entire mango season traveling to every corner of Thailand, there is a good chance I wouldn’t manage to locate every variety. Below are some pictures I took of different mangoes before I eventually decided to give up on the idea…..
How to select a good mango (ripe):
- Colour – as there are so many different kinds of mango, color is not the best indicator of ripeness. Color tells you more about the type of mango you are buying than if the mango is ripe or not. So don’t focus on color.
- Firmness – mangos soften as they ripen, just like peaches, plums, and avocados. Squeeze the mango gently. If it gives slightly to soft pressure, it is ripe.
- Smell – a ripe mango will smell sweet. The smell will be stronger near the stem end.
- Surface – look for a smooth surface. Slight wrinkles are fine, but a heavily wrinkled mango is overripe. Black spots are also a sign of over-ripeness.
Now, this is a bit more tricky, as it is highly a matter of a matter of taste and preference, at which stage of the ripening process a green mango is suitable for eating. I don’t like when they are too sour, so I usually pick green mangoes, that are not super hard. I like when the white pulp has a slight yellow tint to it.
How to store mangoes:
It is best to buy mangoes, that are semi-ripe, or they are at risk of being bruised in transit from the shop to your home. Instead, pick one that has not entirely matured, and allow it to fully ripen at home. Leave it at room temperature, and it will slowly ripen and become softer by each day. If you want to speed up the ripening process, you can place it in a paper bag with another ripe fruit such as banana or apple. If you want to slow down the ripening process, place it in the refrigerator. Once it is ripe, eat it!
How to peel and slice a mango – Thai style:
There are many ways to peel, cut and slice a mango. But since this is a blog about Thai cooking, I will show you how the Thai’s do it:
- Wash the mango thoroughly.
- With a sharp knife slice a strip of skin off the mango, with the knife blade facing away from the body. Yes, you read that right: away from the body! Whether peeling mangoes, papaya, cucumber or any other thing, Thais always cut away from the body. The thumb is pushing the blade, while the index finger is guiding the cut.
- Continue like this until the entire mango is peeled. Make sure the strips are not too wide, or you will cut away too much of the precious pulp.
- The mango usually has a thinner and a wider side. The oblong pit carrying the center stone will be parallel to the wide side. Place your knife along the surface of the pit and cut all the way to the tip. Turn and repeat on the other side of the pit.
- Cut crosswise into slices. You can cut lengthwise too if you want smaller pieces.
- The mango is ready to be served. Eat immediately!
Papaya – named “Fruit of the Angels” by Christopher Colombus – is known by most people as a sweet orangy fruit. But in Thailand, and some of its neighboring countries, both green and orange papaya is consumed. Though very different in appearance, texture, and taste, they are actually the same fruit, just harvested at different stages of development.
The fruit is not native to Asia, but originates from South America and was brought to Asia by Spanish and Portuguese explorers. It was once considered a very rare, exotic fruit. But due to its popularity, it is now readily available all over the world most of the year.
There are several different sorts of papaya such as Mexican, Costa Rican, and Hawaiian. They vary in color, size, and shape, but since I am in Thailand, I will focus on the types that are available here.
The orange papaya can be eaten on its own as it is or sprinkled with some lime juice to balance the sweetness of the flesh. It also works great in salads, fruit salads or enjoyed in drinks such as smoothies or juices.
The black seeds of ripe papayas are also edible. It has a tart and peppery taste and can be ground and used as a substitute for pepper. This is not very common in Thailand, but more widespread in South America.
The firm white flesh of green papaya comes from the same fruit as orange papaya – it just hasn’t ripened. It is used similarly to a vegetable in savory dishes such as stews, curries, and salads. The unripe fruit has a mild flavor different from the tropical sweetness associated with the ripe. It is especially enjoyed for its crunchy texture, most notably as the shredded main ingredient in the famous Thai salad Som Tam, where it serves as an almost tasteless backdrop for stronger flavors such as chili, lime, garlic and fish sauce.
Green papaya and its latex are rich in enzymes which tenderize meat, so it is often used in meat dishes.
How to select a papaya:
- The fruit is ripe and ready for use when the skin is predominantly yellow to orange. If you want to eat it on the same day of purchase, choose papayas that have orange skin. Those that have patches of yellow color will take a few more days to ripen.
- Keep an eye out for cuts, bruises, soft spots, and mold. While a few marks or spots will not hurt, you don’t want a papaya that is overly bruised or soft.
- Press the papaya with your finger. A slight give……. means it is good. If it is too soft and mushy it is overripe and will taste cloyingly sweet.
- Smell the papaya – if it has a sweet smell, it is ripe. Papayas with no scent aren’t ripe yet. If it has a strong, sweet odor it’s overripe and is not as pleasing to eat.
- Select a very firm one.
- The papaya should be totally green with no patches of yellow color.
How to store a papaya:
Store papayas that are partially yellow in a dark spot out of the refrigerator to allow it to fully ripen. The fruit will ripen within a few days. Store only chill, when it is fully ripe. Serve within a day or two or its prime flavor will be lost.
Papayas will ripen more quickly if you place them in a paper bag with an apple or a banana. So if you are in urgent need of a ripe papaya, this will help speed up the process.
Cut it in half and clean the seeds out with a spoon.
You can then slice and eat it like a melon, or remove the skin with a vegetable peeler or knife, and cut the flesh into smaller pieces.
You don’t usually eat the peel.
It is fairly easy to grow papaya. The plant doesn’t require much care, and they grow quite fast. It prefers heat and sunshine to wind, cold and excessive rainfall (just like the rest of us! ). But in spite of these encouraging facts, I haven’t had much success trying to cultivate it!
My venture into papaya farming started one day as I was weeding my garden. I saw a small plant, that looked like a mini papaya. I decided to save it and see what would become of it. I gave it a better place in the garden and patiently waited for it to grow big. It was indeed a papaya, but to my disappointment, it never produced any fruits. On the other side of the fence in my neighbors garden, grew a large papaya with plenty of fruits on it, so I didn’t quite understand why I was unsuccessful. I consulted with a friend, who explained the reason was possibly, that I had a male plant! To produce fruits, I needed a female plant.
I wanted to give it another try, so I went to the flower market and bought 3 plants, clearly informing that I needed both male and female. Another round of waiting…. One plant produced a flower, which developed into a small fruit, but it was a sad specimen and not edible. That was the end of that!! I am now placing my bets on bananas instead.
I have since learned, that papaya plants grow in three sexes: male, female, and hermaphrodite. The male produces only pollen, the female produces inedible fruits unless pollinated, but the hermaphrodites can self-pollinate. This is due to the fact, that hermaphrodite’s flowers contain both male stamens and female ovaries. So hermaphrodites are the way to go! Almost all commercial papaya orchards contain only hermaphrodites.
If you want to give papaya farming a try and manage to succeed, you can enjoy a steady supply of papayas as the plant produces fruit all year round.
The above picture is from an orchard near Sisaket in the Isan province or Northeastern Thailand. Green papaya is a stable in the households in this area.
Please add a comment below, if you have any papaya tips or questions.
Khao Khua is a very common ingredient used in many dishes from the northeastern part of Thailand. It adds a smoky, nutty flavor, a crunchy texture, and also works as a thickener or moisture-retainer. Even though it seems like a simple ingredient, it is not something you would […]
Moo Nam Tok is a delicious dish from the Isan province in the northeastern part of Thailand. It is often referred to as a Thai spicy salad, though westerners would probably categorize more like a meat dish than a salad. The salad is very easy […]