If you’re a mango lover then you probably buy them by the box and slurp and suck every bit of goodness off that pip – mango hair in your teeth for days. It’s just a part of summer.
But plenty of us don’t really know how they’re grown or the amazing process they go through to get to us in their best condition. You probably didn’t even know that unless they’re treated right, the sap from the mango can be acidic and cause a rash.
That’s right, there’s quite a bit that goes into getting our glorious king of summer fruits from the tree and into your hot little hand.
Find out exactly what goes into mango harvesting. You’ll be surprised by just how much care each mango gets, and it’ll make you appreciate them even more.
Mango: a juicy stone fruit
Mangoes (Mangifera indica) are originally from South Asia, and made their way across the tropics and into America in 1880. Today, mangoes are the most commonly eaten fruit in the world, with India being the greatest supplier. It’s a stone fruit, meaning it has one hard seed surrounded by tasty fruit.
In America, we get mangoes from a lot of different countries across Central and South America, to include Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Brazil, and Haiti, as well as from our own backyard in California and Florida. What does this mean? Due to varying growth calendars, we can pretty much have mangoes all year round!
Process starts in the tree
The trees hang heavy with hundreds for mangoes weighing down the branches, and in peak season it’s hard to keep up with the fruit, picking it before it falls and hits the ground.
Tree fall fruit can’t go to the markets, because one little fall will mean a bruise in a few days time, so each fruit is harvested by hand just before it’s ready to fall. This means that there are no harvesting machines shaking trees here, just a troop of pickers cutting the fruit with long clippers, placing them in a bucket and walking them to a washing station in the back of a small truck. It’s all very labour intensive.
The washing station is vital, because when mangoes are picked the stalks release a lot of sap. This sap is acidic and instantly starts to burn the mango skin, slowly causing it to turn black from the stem down. The acid is so strong that some people have a reaction to it, causing their skin to come out in a rash.
Why don’t we know more about this? Simple — because every mango that is picked gets washed before it does anything else, getting rid of the sap. Most of us never come into contact with it.
The washing station in the truck rolls through the orchard, misting lightly soapy water into a trough. Each mango is submerged in the soapy solution and washed by hand to dilute and remove the sap. End of story. Most of us will never know how acidic the mango sap is, because we’ll just never come into contact with it. Genius.
Mangoes are usually picked while they are still green, just before they start to change colour and while they are still firm. This is because they are such a soft fruit that if they are ripe when picked, they’ll simply be too soft to support their own weight during transport. If they’re picked green, then they’ll retain their shape, the final ripening can be controlled and they’ll be perfect for your pick from the grocery shelves.
Once they are washed and put into a large transport crate, they get taken to the packing shed and it’s time for another bath. This one happens on a conveyor belt where a solution that stops black spot mildew growing on the skin is sprayed over them at a lovely warm 52°C, then it’s through a drying tunnel and along the conveyor belt to polishing and size grading.
Mangoes come in all sorts and sizes
Grading is done by size and weight, and again most of it is done by hand. The first stage sees the fruits separated into first grade fruit and second grades by hand, with fruit that’s not quite right taken out of the line. Next, they get separated into sizes, rolled into the relevant packing tub and then hand packed into their crates.
The last step is to label them with their bar-coded stickers, noting type and farm, and that is done by hand again (with a sticker gun, but still one at a time). Most of the mangoes we saw were picked, washed and packed the same day and then collected to be shipped out to consumers.
The last part of the process is for distributors to finish ripening the mangoes with ethylene gas (the gas that naturally ripens fruit on the tree) just before they are sent for delivery to consumers. This means that by the time they get to you, they should be perfectly ripe and ready to buy and eat.
So yes, yellow and red and slightly soft to the touch means ripe. They’ve been treated like princes to get them to you that way and to keep the black spots away, so now is the time to treat them like kings.
And here’s a note to all mango lovers out there. I know mangoes are hard to resist just peeled and eaten on the spot (who could blame us, really?), but if you can manage to hold yourself back, they are great in a salad, grilled with prawns or fish, or served up as an accompaniment to chicken.
With information from: Honey Kitchen