Thursday, March 27, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Mangosteens

     Just got a chance to try mangosteens, which are considered a world class fruit.  Some refer to it as, “Queen of All Fruits”, and others as, “The Food of the Gods.”  The “Queen” moniker comes from England’s Queen Victoria—she supposedly offered either 100 pounds sterling (if I'm doing the inflation/conversion right, that's roughly $15,000 current U.S. dollars), and/or a knighthood to the first (male, evidently) person to provide her with a fresh mangosteen specimen.  (Since there’s only one source for this story, historians consider this tale apocryphal.)  New York Times editor/writer R.W. Apple, Jr., had this to say about mangosteens:  “No other fruit, for me, is so thrillingly, intoxicatingly luscious.  I’d rather eat one than a hot fudge sundae.”  The label on the package I bought said it was, “a tropical fruit explosion that melts in your mouth.”
     Then there are the purported health benefits.  Like a lot of exotic foods, mangosteens are supposed to treat or cure various diseases and ailments, such as skin infections, urinary tract infections, dysentery, or even cancer.  Some claim these benefits are from eating the rind, and/or the fruit.  Its juice, sometimes called, “Xango juice,” is also promoted as a healthy drink.
     Probably contributing to mangosteen’s popularity, at least with some folks, is its rarity.  It’s very sensitive, climate wise—it needs a strictly tropical environment.  It then takes a while to grow, and start producing fruit.  Finally, even its seeds are delicate.  Despite this, it has spread across the globe.  Starting from probably the Sunda Islands or the Moluccas, it’s now cultivated across other tropical areas of Southeast Asia, as well as parts of South America, India, Puerto Rico, and even southern Florida.  But that’s another issue.  The U.S. didn’t permit importation of it until very recently, because it apparently attracts a very destructive type of fruit fly.  Now importation is allowed, provided the fruit is irradiated or fumigated for the insect pest.  Back in 2007, just to illustrate, mangosteens went for up to $45 a pound!
     Luckily my local Shop Rite had them today, so I snapped up a package.  They were still very expensive ($13 for 4, or $4 per pound) but not as absurd as in 2007.  Mine were from Thailand, so assuming my supermarket isn’t trafficking in illegal goods, they were presumably fumigated or irradiated.  Mangosteens are a little weird looking.  To me they resemble brownish plums.  They were about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter.  Getting through the rind to the fruit was surprisingly difficult.  I started off with a regular steak knife and was quickly thwarted.  Next I found a heavier duty, sharper knife, one which also had teeth on one side of the blade.  It was then I said a sentence I’ve never uttered before, when someone tried to talk to me—“I can’t hear you, I’m sawing open my fruit.”  No exaggeration, mangosteens are like mini-coconuts.  It took me several minutes to cut each one open.
     The fruit inside was 5-7 sections, which looked like tiny, whitish-pink orange sections.  The package said their flavor was “indescribable.”  Rebel that I am, I’ll give it a try, anyway.  The taste was………underwhelming.  It was decent—mild and pleasantly sweet, but not dazzlingly so.  Given what I’d heard about them, and what they cost, and how tough they are to acquire (and peel), they were very disappointing.  I can think of many fruit types that I like better—oranges, most grapes, kiwi, or just about any kind of berry.  Or sticking with fruits I’ve blogged about, kumquats, starfruit, ackees, pummelo, and especially dates are all as good or better.  And to say that they’re better than a sundae, as Mr. Apple did, is just ludicrous, in my opinion.
     Their overrated-ness goes even further.  Despite the many claims, to date there is no scientific evidence that mangosteens have any of their alleged medical benefits.  The American Cancer Society has emphatically stated their lack of effectiveness against any form of cancer, for example.  They do have some nutrients, like Vitamin B’s, C, calcium, and potassium, but only in low to moderate amounts by fruit standards.
     In conclusion, then, while their taste was okay, mangosteens weren’t worth their relatively expensive price.  In my eyes, they’re only the “County Baroness of Fruit,” or, “The Occasional Snack Food of Demi-Gods When They Want a Change of Pace.”  Oh, and in case you were wondering, the similarity in name is just a coincidence—they’re not related to mangoes.


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