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!