Why India’s Alphonso can turn Australia’s Calypso into pulp…every single season
Everyone loves a mango but not all of these juicy sweet fruit are born equal. It’s an indisputable fact to all who have tasted them that Indian mangoes are simply the best.
Those who haven’t bitten into a fat juicy mango nourished by native Indian soil and ripened under the hot Indian sun may not believe me. ‘Pffft, a mango is a mango’, they’d say ‘who cares where it’s grown?’ I used to believe this too until mango season arrived in India a month or so back and I saw the light — the rich honey golden light of a mango cheek.
India is a proud country and like any proud country it’s not shy of giving its national icons the respect they deserve. As India’s national fruit, the mango is treated no differently. Mango season sweeps Delhi like a monsoon of candy-flavoured fruit. Newspapers devote full-page spreads to debates about the best varieties, the most expensive, the hardest to find. With some saying there’s around 1200 different mangos growing in India, these debates are easily re-hashed each season without growing old and mouldy.
Mango season here is a treasure hunt, with the rarest breeds as difficult to track down as the one-horned rhino. When for the first time, you bite into the plump juicy flesh and the subtle difference in flavour and fragrance hits you, you’re addicted. No journey to a distant market on the other side of the city seems too far if this one mango is rumoured to be there. From the saffron-hinted Kesar variety to the divine Dassehris and sugar-bomb Langras, there is a mango in India that could turn anyone into a drooling, gibbering addict.
When India’s world-famous Alphonso mangoes were unceremoniously banned from export to the European Union this season after crates were found riddled with fruit flies, everyone knows on what side of the equator the tears were being shed. While the poor Brits learnt the news with woebegone headlines about “A summer without Alphonsos!”the average Indian was instead smirking into her chai. In a matter of days India’s most expensive mango suddenly became its cheapest, the price squashed by the unexpected glut. Don’t worry Europe, we will eat them all.
Down in Australia mangoes have only been growing since the 1800s. And while the sunburnt nation can boast of a modest handful of varieties now, such as Calypsos, Honey Golds, Palmers, Keitts and Brooks, who could say they are truly, madly, deeply bonkers for the R2E2? This mango sounds like it will shoot lasers into your face rather than give you the blissful sugar trip you seek.
Down Under mangoes are treated like a science project rather than a wonder of nature. The National Mango Breeding program produced three hybrid varieties that sound like pandemic viruses waiting to wipe us out upon their release: NMBP-1201, NMBP-1243, and NMBP-4069. The authorities said they merely wanted to produce a “good blush colour” and “disease resistance,” but how can we trust them? It’s all too easy to imagine some locked basement in CSIRO where mango mutants roam, bumping into each other in the dark, shivering in corners with drool dripping from their mango fangs.
Australians may say they enjoy a mango or two in the summertime but when tested it seems they don’t even know what they are biting into. A 2013 survey by Pinata Farms found 44% of Australian did not realise that there was more than one variety of mango existing. “A mango is a mango” to Australians, Pinata Farms general manager Roger Turner woefully pointed out. Worse than simply revealing our laidback ignorance, the survey suggested that our overwhelming lack of mango nous meant Australia was experiencing a rise in what’s scientifically known as “mango first bite depression”. This is experienced when you bite into a mango and the mango taste you expect is somehow wrong – because unbeknownst to you,you’ve actually bought and are eating an entirely different variety of the fruit to the one you like.
Finally Indians know the secret to how mangos need to be eaten and it’s not daintily forking perfect refrigerated cubes into your mouth. As my friend explained while admonishing someone complaining of sticky fingers, “You’re an Indian woman! If and unless the juice is not dripping down your arm and your licking it off your elbow, slurp, slurp, slurrrrrp — then you can’t say you’re eating a mango!”